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Defense Propels Utes Past Cougars, 24-13

Sep 25, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY – It was a tale of two halves today inside Rice-Eccles Stadium for Utah Football's conference opener against Washington State with the Utes coming away with a 24-13 Homecoming victory in front of 51,483 fans. Utah improved to 2-2 overall and 1-0 in Pac-12 play.

The Utes were only able to muster 96 yards of total offense in the first half while Washington State produced 212 through the first two quarters, but it would be a different story as Utah came out of the tunnel at halftime.

Utah went off for 254 yards in the second half, including 143 on the ground while holding the Cougars to 106. The Utes held Washington State to just 10 rushing yards in the fourth quarter and 33 in the second half, also recording two of their three interceptions for the game that included a key pick-six by Clark Phillips III with 2:19 remaining in the game to seal the win.

It was another slow start on offense for the Utes, only gaining 36 yards of total offense in the first quarter with zero points in the first 15 minutes of the game. Utah's defense stayed steady though, holding the Cougars scoreless as well with first-time starter freshman Karene Reid recording his first-career pick as a Ute with under three minutes on the clock.

Washington State was able to find its way onto the scoreboard with 10:34 left to play in the second quarter, settling for a 39-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead. After settling in later on in the second quarter, the Utah offense hit the ground running – literally.

The Utes marched down field for six-straight rushing plays, racking up 65 yards on the ground and another 15 on WSU penalties to get in the end zone. The scoring drive included a career-long 31-yard rush from Cameron Rising, ending with a two-yard rushing touchdown from freshman quarterback Ja'Quinden Jackson on a massive block from Chris Curry to give the Utes a 7-3 lead with 4:14 to go in the second quarter.

It would then be a 10-point swing for the Cougars to end the first half and begin the second, scoring a 20-yard field goal to end the second quarter and a 26-yard passing touchdown to start the third. The 10 unanswered points would put Washington State up 13-7 with 13:40 to go in the third quarter.

Jadon Redding and the Utah special teams unit would make it a three-point game with 9:15 to go in the third quarter, hitting a 28-yarder through the uprights to make the score 13-10. After the special teams points, Utah's defense made a pivotal play with Devin Lloyd coming up with a diving interception, igniting the crowd and the Utah offense.

The rhythm had been found and the battle was on as the Cougars left the third quarter hanging onto the three-point lead.

Enter TJ Pledger.

The junior running back went off for 99 of his 117 total rushing yards in the fourth quarter that included a career-long 59-yard rush. Pledger gave the Utes the lead back with 4:43 remaining in the game after breaking tackles for a 20-yard rushing touchdown on the backend of a 72-yard scoring drive to put the Utes up 17-13.

The defense took the field with under five minutes to play, quickly forcing Washington State to attempt a fourth-and-eight. As the quarterback dropped back for the pass, Phillips ended up reading the play to come up with his second-career pick-six for 54 yards and the game sealing touchdown.

The Cougars would get the ball back with 2:19 to go, but back-to-back sacks from Lloyd and Van Fillinger would force a fourth-and-25 with the Utes getting to kneel the ball on offense for the 24-13 win.

In his first full game as a Ute, sophomore Cameron Rising went 13-of-23 passing for 137 yards with Pledger leading the way offensively with 117 rushing yards (1 TD) on 10 carries (11.7 ypc). Brant Kuithe led the Utes in receptions (4) with 25 yards while Cole Fotheringham finished with a team-high 33 receiving yards on three receptions.

Reid racked up a career-best 15 tackles (1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) in his first start as a Ute, also claiming his interception with a 13-yard return. Lloyd also had eight tackles including 3.0 TFL (1.0 sack) and an interception with Brandon McKinney recording seven stops.

Junior return specialist Britain Covey set a school record with his 31 punt return yards today against Washington State, giving him a Utah record 902 career yards. His 902 yards passes the previous school record (892, LaVon Edwards).

He currently has the most career punt return yards of any active player in the FBS, also entering the game against the Cougars ranked first in the country in average per punt return (20.6) in 2021.

The Utes will be off this week before heading back to Los Angeles for a Pac-12 matchup against the USC Trojans on Saturday, Oct. 9. The game time and TV network (FOX or FS1) will be announced at a later date.