One week after melting down in the second half and losing at home to Washington State, the Utah Utes held off a late rally, including two game-winning field goal attempts, to upset the no. 8 team in the country, UCLA.
Utah's defense came to the Rose Bowl ready to erase the memory of Washington State and sacked UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley 10 times. The Utes' defensive fireworks started early as free safety Tevin Carter picked off Hundley and returned the ball 27 yards for a touchdown to put Utah on the board 7-0.
On the offensive side of the ball, however, Utah struggled. Junior quarterback Travis Wilson's first three drives were three and out. Fortunately for the Utes, the defense continued to hold the Bruins scoreless as well.
After the Carter score, Andy Phillips executed a perfect on-side kick to give Utah the ball back. Instead of Wilson, offensive coordinator Dave Christensen trotted out junior transfer Kendal Thompson, who promptly began moving the ball, mostly with his legs and the pounding, determined ground game of running back Devontae Booker. On this possession, even with the great field position, the Utes again went three plays and out. But on his second possession, Thompson led Utah on a nine play, 87-yard drive, which ended with his 42-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Dres Anderson, increasing the Utes lead to 14-0.
Thompson finished 10-of-13 (76.9%) passing for 95 yards and the touchdown. While the offense was hardly a juggernaut, the ball was moving. The sticks were moving, and points were being scored, even while touchdowns were hard to come by.
Utah churned out 242 yards on the ground, but their 100 yards passing is the second lowest total recorded in a Pac-12 game. As with the Michigan game, UCLA began loading the box and daring Thompson to beat them with his arm.
The two teams traded scores to end the half, with UCLA scoring on a four-yard touchdown run by 5-11 running back Paul Perkins and the Utes chalking up 48-yard field goal from Andy Phillips. Fast forward to the fourth quarter where things got much more interesting for both teams, and Utah needed to tighten its belt to hold onto this one.
With the lead at 24-14, Jim Mora dialed up the wheel route, and Hundley executed it perfectly, hitting junior wide receiver Devin Fuller in stride for a 93-yard touchdown strike. UCLA pulled within a single possession, down just a field goal at 24-21, and the lightning strike seemed to signal the Bruins were charging back.
Utah answered with an Andy Phillips 45-yard field goal to go up 27-21, but UCLA wasn't done. Hunldey again directed a calm drive, culminating in a 40-yard touchdown pass to 6-3 redshirt freshman wideout Eldridge Massington. The resulting extra point put the Bruins up 28-27, the very same score as the Washington State final. Omen? Deja vu?
Not this time, as Thompson and Booker forged a 10-play, 63-yard drive that chewed up 4:16 of the clock, setting up Phillips for the potential game winner from 29 yards out. Utah ran the clock down under 40 seconds, and Andy Phillips was true to his Automatic nickname, nailing the go-ahead field goal to put the Utes up 30-28. Unfortunately, that still left 37 seconds on the clock for Hundley.
Hundley used just about every second, directing a drive that ended with the ball 55-yards away for the game winning field goal. However, UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed the field goal giving Utah the win, right? Wrong. A controversial running into the kicker penalty gave UCLA a 50-yard kick with no time on the clock, again for the win. With the game on his foot, Fairbairn missed again, pushing the ball to the right, and the Utes rushed the field having finally defeated the no. 8 team in the country.
Utah improves to 4-1 on the season, 1-1 in the Pac-12. The bottom line for the Utes is that after two straight 5-7 seasons as members of the Pac-12, Utah is just two wins from bowl eligibility. However, two more wins are not going to be easy. As Utah learned a week ago and the no. 8-ranked Bruins found out Saturday, there are no easy wins, even at home, in the Pac-12.