If the Utah Utes are searching for a tested formula to upset nationally ranked Arizona State, here’s what worked for them 40 years ago: wintry conditions, 10 turnovers, a goal-line stand during a five-down sequence, a defensive back who decoded audibles and a quarterback who overcame double vision.
That’s all it took for the Utes to claim a 36-31 victory over one of the most talented teams ever to play in Salt Lake City. The upset of the No. 8 Sun Devils stood as the Utes’ most recent regular-season defeat of a Top 10 opponent at home, until they beat No. 5 Stanford 27-21 last month.
“That was a crazy game,” former Utah running back Steve Marlowe said. Now the football coach at Skyline High School, Marlowe is assisted by teammate Steve Marshall, a defensive back whose memories of that November 1973 game are just as clear — starting with the weather.
When the snow started falling Friday night during a homecoming bonfire, Marshall said, the Utah players smiled in approval, believing the unpleasant conditions would give them a chance against ASU.
Legendary coach Frank Kush’s Sun Devils were 7-0, riding a 12-game winning streak, and featured quarterback Danny White, running backs Woody Green and Ben Malone and defensive stars Mike Haynes and Bob Breunig. ASU had beaten BYU 52-12 earlier that season and would finish 11-1 with a Fiesta Bowl win over Tony Dorsett’s Pittsburgh team. Utah went 7-5, with no bowl bid in a much different era of college football.
The skies partly cleared Saturday afternoon, with temperatures in the mid-30s and puddles dotting the original Astroturf field at Rice Stadium. What unfolded in front of 22,135 fans was stunning, as the Sun Devils lost the ball on their first five possessions and Utah took a 30-3 lead.
Marshall claims to have figured out White’s audibles, disrupting ASU’s trap game. “Every time I guessed, it was the right thing,” he said.
Marshall also told Steve Odom to stay in the middle on a punt return that was designed for the sideline, and Odom ran 70 yards to the ASU 1-yard line to set up a touchdown. ASU lost seven turnovers by halftime, trailing 30-10. White, who later would quarterback the Dallas Cowboys and, more recently, coach the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League, heated up in the second half. The Devils cut the lead to 30-24 and drove to the Utah 4-yard line, where the Ute defense stiffened and confusion resulted during that series of downs.
The official play-by-play account lists a first-down run by Green, a second-down run by Malone, a third-down incompletion and White’s being caught for a loss on fourth down. It notes, “Play-by-play impounded as part of the argument,” and then says, “Is it really 5th & 5?”
Ute coach Bill Meek “went ballistic, as much as he would ever get angry,” Marshall said.
The Salt Lake Tribune explained that a late-hit penalty (half the distance to the goal) gave ASU a first-and-3 situation at the 7-yard line — not first-and-goal. Green picked up a first down on his carry, but the sideline marker showed second down and remained incorrect. A 15-minute discussion preceded ASU’s final play, with White throwing another incompletion.
Ute quarterback Don Van Galder, having experienced double vision in the third quarter, then drove his team 95 yards for a touchdown to make it 36-24.
“Today, he probably never would have gone back in the game,” Marlowe said.
White threw a touchdown pass on the last play as ASU finished with 506 yards to Utah’s 263. The Devils lost six fumbles and White threw four interceptions.
Meek retired after a season that ended with losses to BYU, which was 3-6 at the time, and Hawaii. Utah would not beat another Top 10 team until the 2009 Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama.
No. 23 Arizona St.at Utah
O Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network