Coaches say all the time it’s not how you start a game, it’s how you finish it.
No. 19 Utah took that to heart on Wednesday night in the Foster Farms Bowl, following up an opening kickoff fumble with a game-winning field goal in the final 90 seconds to top Indiana 26-24 in a wild finish.
Running back Joe Williams was once again the focal point for the Utes offense and caused plenty of the late game drama in the first point by fumbling in Hoosiers territory to setup a go-ahead touchdown for Indiana. That put the team in a perilous position with minutes left in the clock but the veteran tailback churned his way for some big gains down the stretch — finishing with 222 yards and a touchdown — before setting up kicker Andy Phillips, who sneaked the game-winning ball inside the left upright from 27 yards out.
The Utah defense came up with one final stop after that to seal a victory on a night where they also recorded three sacks and three takeaways.
Richard Lagow had a rough outing over on the West Coast as the Indiana quarterback finished just 14-of-39 for 188 yards with one score and one interception. He was under siege most of the game by that tough Utes front seven, which only tailback Devine Redding was able to move the ball effectively through on his way to a 72 yard, one touchdown night on the ground.
There was plenty of fight in the Hoosiers in this one though and they came ever so close to capturing the program’s first bowl victory in 25 seasons. In the end though, it wasn’t enough to get past the Utes, which started slow but finished when it counted in the final minutes.
No. 19 Utah began the Foster Farms Bowl in just about the worst way possible with a fumble on the opening kickoff and a quick touchdown for Indiana less than a minute later. The Utes rallied behind some good defense and a couple of big plays down the field however and managed to head into halftime tied at 17-all.
Tailback Joe Williams once again powered the way for the offense and finished with 53 yards and a score on the ground while adding another 56 in the passing game as the result of an excellent screen play. He took some of the heat off quarterback Troy Williams (8-of-17, 131 yards) and his backup in freshman Tyler Huntley, who saw significant action in a series of sub-packages and scored a rushing touchdown off a keeper in a different look in the red zone.
Indiana’s offense struggled for most of the half despite punching it into the end zone on that initial possession. The team punted three times after short drives and fumbled twice, including once in the red zone, to allow their opponents back into the game and managed just a field goal despite a first and goal situation following a 53 yard catch and run from Ricky Jones.
The Hoosiers did make things interesting late in the second though, getting their own backup quarterback involved as Zander Diamont came in and tossed a perfect touchdown pass to Nick Westbrook from 36 yards out to tie things up.
The Foster Farms Bowl was always one of those postseason games that was pegged as a potential wild one given how the two offenses operate and the fact that both defenses were fairly stout during the year. If both teams can hang onto the ball in the second half, things could get very interesting out in the Bay Area.
Colorado’s dream season isn’t over yet.
The ninth-ranked Buffaloes used a battering defense and several timely second half scores to beat No. 22 Utah 27-22, securing the Pac-12 South title and the school’s first trip to the conference title game.
Quarterback Sefo Liufau was battered and bruised by a tough pass rush but scrambled out of several bad situations to throw for 270 yards and a touchdown — numbers that would have been much greater had his wideouts not dropped several big passes in the first half. The signal-caller also led the team in rushing with 59 yards as tailback Phillip Lindsay was bottled up for the most part.
Yet it was the Buffs’ defense that really won them the game and showed why they are one of the best units in the country. In addition to limiting Utah quarterback Troy Williams to 13-of-40 passing (with two interceptions, one touchdown), Kenneth Olugbode’s scoop and score extended the Colorado lead to two scores and gave the team all of the second half momentum. Safety Tedric Thompson tied a school-record for interceptions in a season late in the fourth quarter with his seventh pick of the year to seal the game.
Utes running back Joe Williams managed just 3.7 yards a carry on a night where his normally reliable offensive line had trouble with everything the opposing front-seven threw their way. Utah failed to capitalize on multiple trips to the red zone and made it to the opposing four yard line but came away with just nine points. The score was only as close as it was because of the team’s terrific special teams that managed to find the end zone on a 55 yard punt return.
The win, arguably the biggest in Mike MacIntyre’s tenure given the stakes, sets up a juicy Pac-12 title game next Friday in Santa Clara. Washington is bound to move up into the top four in the rankings with a clear path to the College Football Playoff and only one game left standing in the way.
Colorado has been proving people wrong all season long though and will have one more chance to do it again against the Huskies.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham had to be wondering if his team forgot to change their clocks on the trip down to Arizona State on Thursday night. The offense fumbled twice and went three-and-out the next two drives while the Utes’ defense quickly gave up three straight scores to the Sun Devils.
A little less than an hour into the game however, the team woke up and came roaring back behind some big plays to top the Sun Devils 49-26.
ASU’s lackluster secondary proved just the thing to get quarterback Troy Williams going, with the Utah starter throwing for 296 yards and four touchdowns. Four wide receivers on the team had a reception over 20 yards on the night and sophomore Raelon Singleton had three of his four catches go for scores (including a wild 64 yarder).
Tailback Joe Williams didn’t get much work with the passing game operating so well but did wind up with 181 yards and two scores, one of which was an 82 yard touchdown run.
Sun Devils quarterback Manny Wilkins did his best to get things going offensively but was simply under siege all night. The Utes defense had 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, five (!!) of which came from Hunter Dimick. Safety Chase Hansen also had a pick-six and Marcus Williams added nine tackles and an interception.
The win was just Utah’s fourth ever in Tempe for a series that dates back to 1961 and only their second over ASU since joining the Pac-12. More importantly for the team is it allows them to keep pace with Colorado in the South division and keep hopes alive of an appearance in the conference title game next month.
If you want to go undefeated, chances are you need a few breaks along the way.
Washington needed one in a bad way in Salt Lake City and got one from Dante Pettis on a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to escape with a 31-24 win over Utah on Saturday afternoon.
The two teams had gone back-and-forth over four quarters in a great battle between two of the best in their respective Pac-12 divisions. Washington had jumped out to an early lead and appeared poised to take control of the game but Utah responded in the third quarter with an interception that led to a touchdown and a late field goal just before halftime to cut it to a four point game. Eventually they took the lead as a result of a 17 point run.
Huskies quarterback Jake Browning would not be denied however, leading back-to-back scoring drives in the third quarter to re-take the lead. The Heisman candidate wasn’t the sharpest he’s been all season — throwing an interception for the first UW turnover in over a month — but did toss two touchdowns and converted several times on third down thanks to his ability to escape the pocket and make a clutch play.
Tailback Myles Gaskin also found it tough to get going against a stingy Utah defense but wound up with 151 yards and a score to extend his lead in the Pac-12 rushing standings. Counterpart Joe Williams looked much better on the ground and chipped in 172 yards and a score thanks to some tough running for the home team.
Utes signal-caller Troy Williams couldn’t quite complete the rally against his old school but it wasn’t for lack of trying after a dreadful start. His numbers didn’t wind up looking all that great (14-of-31, 163 yards, two touchdowns) but he was much better in the second half and came up with some big throws down the stretch to even get the team in position to make it a game.
Surprisingly it was the Utah special teams who made the key mistake in the fourth quarter however on a play that ultimately proved to be the deciding score. Pettis took a deep punt, ran backwards a bit to avoid a pair of gunners and hit the edge to race up the sideline for the game-winning touchdown. It was a lucky break for the Huskies but one they had to have in order to win the game.
The victory moves Washington to 8-0 for the first time since 1992 and keeps them atop the Pac-12 North standings. While it was the second time the team has struggled in a Pac-12 road game this season, it does keep their record unblemished ahead of the very first College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.
While many expected the conference to be left out of the final four this season, thanks in part to Washington surviving their big test at Utah, the Pac-12 will be in prime position to land a team in the playoff as a pretty clear path has opened up for the undefeated Huskies.