It took double overtime in a battle between two of the nations top defenses, but the No. 23 Utah Utes found their offense in the extra periods to beat Stanford 20-17 in Palo Alto, Calif. After Stanford was stopped for a 51-yard field goal in the second overtime, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson drove the Utes down to the three yard line and tossed a quick slant to wide receiver Kenneth Scott for the game winning touchdown.
"There's no quit in these guys, they're physically tough, mentally tough, and I'm just proud to be associated with them," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "Unlike the ASU game a couple of weeks ago, we had one more play than they did."
The game was a slugfest from the opening kick to the final tick of regulation. Stanford scored early in the first quarter and led 7-0 after one quarter, but the Cardinal could not score another point in regulation the rest of the game.
On the other side, Utah answered with a touchdown at the 6:02 mark in the second quarter, and the first half would end with the game tied 7-7.
In the second half, neither team could even manage a field goal. However, Stanford had the ball late in an area that would have made for a 51-yard field goal. Instead, Stanford head coach David Shaw elected to punt the ball and head to overtime. That decision, given that Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson nailed a 51 yarder in the second overtime, was curious.
"It's about the easiest decision today," Stanford head coach David Shaw said about the decision not to go for the 51-yard field goal. "With 2:00 minutes left to attempt a 51-yard field goal? If we miss, they get the ball back with field position to drive for the win. No. We pinned them deep and got the ball back with enough time to make something happen. The upside is we could have possibly made the field goal, but the downside is too great."
In a game of field position, the special teams are very important. Stanford managed to keep Utah kick returner Kaelin Clay fairly neutralized, and the Utes did the same with dangerous returner/wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Tom Hackett's rugby-style kicks moved the ball outside of Montgomery's reach, and the Aussie pinned six punts inside the 20.
In the first overtime, Utah had the ball first and quickly drew first blood on a wheel route by wide receiver Kaelin Clay. Wilson's 25-yard touchdown pass on the first play immediately put the pressure on Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan and the struggling Stanford offense.
"It was something we saw during film," Wilson said of the scoring play. "It was the right look and the perfect call, so I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity. And Kaelin ran a great route. I had time and made a great ball, so I'm really happy."
However, Stanford answered with a 14-yard throwback to tight end Austin Hooper along the left side of the field for a walk-in touchdown. That sent the game to, yes, double overtime tied 14-14.
In the second extra period, Stanford had the ball first. A Nate Orchard sack pushed the Cardinal backward to the 33 yard line. Hogan followed up with an incomplete pass to big wide receiver Devon Cajuste and a completion to Christian McCaffrey for a loss of 1. With no choice but to go for points, Shaw trotted out the kicking team and Williamson drilled the 51-yarder right down the middle for the 17-14 lead.
Wilson then did what the Utah offense could not manage the entire game, produced a sustained drive. He hit tight end Westlee Tonga across the middle on third down to move the chains, then ran the ball for four yards down the the Stanford eight. Wilson then passed to Booker down to the Stanford three. Utah offensive coordinator Dave Christensen deserves credit for the ensuing play call, lining up the Utes in a set that drew all the Stanford defenders to the middle of the field to stop Booker. Instead, Wilson hit Scott on a quick slant for the game winner.
Utah's defense gave up 190 yards rushing to Stanford, while the best rushing defense in the conference limited the Utes to just 70 total yards rushing, 2.2 yards per carry. However, Utah's defense held Hogan to 104 yards passing (just 3.7 yards per pass), yet Utah threw for 177 yards and 6.3 yards per pass.
Indvidually, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard terrorized the Stanford offensive line and Hogan, recording 3.5 sacks and breaking the single season Utah record. Orchard has been an equal opportunity quarterback harasser with 16.5 sacks on the season.
Wilson accounted for all three Utes touchdowns, finishing the game 21-of-28 for 177 yards passing and two touchdowns, as well as running up the middle for the only Utah touchdown in regulation.
"Our defense was playing well all game," Wilson said. "I knew our offense was clicking in the end. We made some big plays in the end and really just played an all out full game."
Utah running back Devontae Booker didn't have a big game running the ball (just 58 yards on 17 carries), but he continued to show his productivity catching passes out of the backfield, registering nine catches for 41 yards.
Scott had one of his best games of the season with four catches for 71 yards and the game winning touchdown. In a season in which Scott has been slowed by nagging injuries, he saved his best catch for a time when Utah needed it most.
Next Saturday, Utah (7-3, 4-3) returns home to Sack Lake City to host the Arizona Wildcats (8-2, 5-2) in a game that could play into deciding the Pac-12 South champion. The Wildcats enter the game with some momentum, having beaten Washington today 27-26.