Utah Utes

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 23: Quarterback Troy Williams #3 of the Utah Utes looks to pass the ball in the second quarter of their game against the USC Trojans at Rice-Eccles Stadium on September 23, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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Utah captures win over USC thanks to thrilling fourth quarter comeback

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With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter and the game on the line, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham didn’t flinch.

The Utes converted two fourth downs on a game-winning drive to complete a 10 point comeback in the final quarter to stun USC 31-27 in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

The loss moved Utah to 4-0 to start the season but much more notably dropped the Trojans to 1-3 before we’ve even reached October.

Quarterback Troy Williams finished the night with 270 yards and a pair of touchdowns, torching the USC secondary on quick passes on the final drive and making a few plays with his legs as well by adding 17 yards rushing during the game. Tailback Zack Moss was part of an effective ground game and led the team with 90 yards on 23 carries.

If there was any bright spot for USC on the night, it was that redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold looked good in his first start for the Trojans (253 yards, no interceptions). Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster finally got going to the tune of 98 yards on eight receptions and teammate Adoree’ Jackson chipped in with a 100 yard kick return in the first quarter.

Still, it will be a long week for the men of Troy as they are staring at a huge uphill climb to even make a bowl game with one of the toughest schedules in the country. They’ll host a rapidly improving Arizona State next week looking to avoid going 0-3 to start Pac-12 play as talk of coach Clay Helton’s hot seat is bound to heat up in Los Angeles.

Utah, SMU debut slick new helmets for Friday night games

Utah football's newest helmet design was unveiled before the team played USC.
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Friday night’s slate of college football games is not a bad one at all this week. SMU is playing metroplex rival TCU in the Battle for the Iron Skillet while Utah is hosting a big Pac-12 South battle against USC.

The Utes and the Mustangs must know they’re on national TV tonight because both teams tweeted out some slick new helmet designs.

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Football uniforms have become as much about recruiting as they are for displaying the school name so kudos to both programs for unveiling such unique and good looking designs. The fire emoji is certainly appropriate to use for both.

Sam Darnold to start at QB for USC vs. Utah

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 21: Head coach Clay Helton of USC Trojans looks on as his team warms up before the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Following last week’s lifeless 27-10 loss to Stanford, USC head coach Clay Helton revealed Monday evening Sam Darnold will start at quarterback for the Trojans Friday at Utah.

Max Browne started the first three games for USC, including Saturday’s Stanford debacle. He completed 18-of-28 passes for 191 yards before giving way to Darnold, who hit 5-of-7 throws for 45 yards and an interception.

Darnold is a redshirt freshman from Capistrano Beach, Calif., and the Utah game will represent his first collegiate start. A four-star recruit and the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2015 as rated by 247Sports, Darnold has played in all three games to date and hit 14-of-22 passes for 136 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Browne, for his part, said he doesn’t expect to win his job back and allowed that a transfer is a possibility following this season.

The move signals Helton is feeling heat after a disastrous start to the season for USC. Granted, there is no crime in losing to Alabama and Stanford, but doing so by a combined 79-16 sends waves of panic through Trojans nation.

To date, USC ranks 115th nationally in yards per play, 108th in scoring, 111th in rushing and 97th in passing efficiency. Meanwhile, Helton is just 1-4 since accepting the full-time job last fall. The record is ugly, but, as shown by the numbers above, the execution may have been worse.

USC will face No. 24 Utah at 9 p.m. ET Friday (Fox Sports 1).

Two Utes starters lost to injury, retirement; suspended WR reinstated

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 19:  Running back Joe Williams #28 of the Utah Utes runs for yardage against defensive back Kai Nacua #12 of the Brigham Young Cougars during the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 19, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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To say that Utah’s roster has been in a state of flux leading into Week 3 would be a massive understatement.

Joe Williams began the 2016 season as the Utes’ starting running back; two weeks later, both the senior and the football program confirmed that he has decided to retire from the sport due to unspecified health concerns. Williams said it was a decision he had been thinking about making for the past couple of months.

“I feel as though this is the right decision. I’ll miss it of course, just not playing with these guys, we’re all a family here and I love these boys to death,” Williams said according to the Deseret News. “But, you know, it’s for the best interest and I’m going to be happy with my decision down the road.”

Williams’ 75 yards rushing this season were second on the team. He was second among Ute backs last season with 477 yards.

Additionally, starting defensive end Kylie Fitts sustained a foot injury in the Week 2 win over rival BYU and will mess the remainder of the 2016 season. Fitts, who transferred to Utah from UCLA two years ago, is a senior, but the football program will apply for a medical hardship waiver that will give the lineman another season of eligibility to use in 2017.

In starting 11 games last season, Fitts led the Utes with seven sacks. He had started the first two games this season.

It’s a blow,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s one of our best players.”

And, finally, Whittingham confirmed that suspended wide receiver Cory Butler-Byrd “is now eligible to play,” although it’s unclear if he’ll play in this Saturday’s game against San Jose State.

In late August, the receiver pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal in connection to a July incident in which he allegedly damaged police property.  Butler-Byrd had been indefinitely suspended from the program since the initial incident, although he was partially reinstated narly four weeks ago and was permitted to practice with the team.

After transferring to the Utes from the junior college ranks, Butler-Byrd began his FBS career as a cornerback.  He began the transition to receiver during the 2015 season, then exited spring practice this year as the starter as a slot receiver for the Utes.

Butler-Byrd started five games last season as a corner/receiver (three at CB, two at WR), intercepting three passes and catching one pass for a 54-yard touchdown.  He also returned eight kicks for 233 yards and a touchdown.

Utah survives six turnovers to top BYU in the Holy War

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 10:  Terrell Burgess #26 of the Utah Utes fumbles the ball after he was hit by Alema Pilimai #45 of the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half of an college football game, at Rice Eccles Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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The first play of the Holy War’s return to the regular season after a multi-year absence turned out to be indicative of the rest of the game.

BYU quarterback Taysom Hill had his pass tipped by a receiver on the Cougars’ first snap, with the ball promptly plucked out the air by linebacker Sunia Tauteoli and returned 41 yards for a pick-six. The tone for the night set right off the bat, both teams seemed to go back-and-forth trying to out do each other in the turnover department.

Utah ended up surviving six giveaways on Saturday night in a wild game that had a little of everything at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Ultimately it resulted in a 20-19 Utes win that was their sixth straight (and perhaps most incredible) in the series from BYU.

Not to be outdone, the Cougars also threw two more interceptions to give the game a remarkable nine turnovers… before the end of the 3rd quarter. Hill finished the night 21-of-39 for 176 yards passing in his final meeting with the team’s in-state rival but couldn’t quite muster a second game-winning drive in as many weeks.

Utah quarterback Troy Williams also threw three interceptions in his first taste of the series but managed to come out on top in the end despite a shaky effort most of the game through the air. The offense pounded away at BYU’s defensive front to the tune of 169 yards on 42 carries but costly fumbles from multiple players hampered the team’s rhythm most of the night.

The wackiness of the game came to a crescendo in late in the 3rd quarter. Cougars safety Kai Nacua, who already had two interceptions on the night, was called for a controversial targeting penalty on a play in which he appeared to turn his shoulder on a hit that was eventually ruled incomplete. On the very next play, BYU picked Williams off and Nacua’s backup, Austin McChesney, was also called for targeting and ejected.

Both players will miss the first half of the team’s game against UCLA next week.

The entire sequence would have been the wacky highlight of the night had the Cougars not gone down in an equally wild ending. Utah kicked a short field goal that proved to be the deciding points late in the 4th quarter but Hill got the ball back wth 2:29 left on the clock. He eventually marched the Cougars down the field in a 13 play, 75 yard drive that would have tied the ball game up had new head coach Kalani Sitake opted to go for two and the win instead of gambling on overtime.

It was a decision he would probably want back as the stingy Utes defense swallowed up Hill on a quarterback draw that sealed the fate of their rivals to the south.

The final sequence was also emblematic of the latest interest (to neutrals, at least) chapter of the Holy War that continues to be one of the best rivalries in the West. Hopefully ball security is taken a little more seriously next year though.