Corvallis, Ore. • Had the University of Utah gotten a timely stop on defense, or any stop on defense Saturday night, the complexion of the Pac-12 South would still be entirely in its favor.
Instead, that Utes defense, which has been terrific for long stretches lately, but not for an entire game, again found trouble. This time, it was Oregon State, co-leader of the Pac-12 North and owner of the conference’s top-ranked rushing offense. The Beavers did anything and everything they wanted on the ground, rushing for 260 yards in overcoming an early two-touchdown deficit to outlast the Utes, 42-34, at Reser Stadium.
Utah (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12) is now tied for the South Division lead with Arizona State, but has the tiebreaker over the Sun Devils via a 35-21 win on Oct. 16. The Utes host UCLA (5-3, 3-2 Pac-12) Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium in what is now an even more critical intradivisional contest.
“We came out in the second half, and I don’t want to say we were flat, but they just kept to their gameplan, kept running the ball, didn’t change a thing, and started to get some big runs in the second half as well,” Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said. They were efficient in both halves. I’m not saying in the first half we were much better against the run because they still had a bunch of yards running the football in the first half.”
Oregon State (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) scored touchdowns on two third-quarter possessions, sandwiched around a Luke Musgrave 27-yard scoop-and-score off a blocked punt to take a 35-31 lead at the 2:58 mark of the third quarter.
The ensuing Utah drive stalled, then ended with Jordan Noyes pushing a 52-yard field goal attempt wide to the left.
The Beavers, who at one point were rushing for 8.9 yards per carry, then went to the air. On third-and-6 from his own 49-yard line, Chance Nolan hit Trey Lowe for 11 yards, then went deep down the right sideline to Trevon Bradford for 32 more to set up first-and-goal at the 8.
B.J. Baylor’s eight-yard touchdown run on the next play made it 42-31 with 9:49 to play.
“We go back to Salt Lake City and get ready to play the Bruins,” Cam Rising said matter-of-factly after throwing for 267 yards and rushing for 73 more.
Down two scores, Utah then drove down the Oregon State 2, but on fourth-and-goal, Rising’s pass to Britain Covey was broken up at the goal line by Alex Austin, giving the ball back to the Beavers.
That play capped a frustrating night in the red zone, because while the Utes were 6-for-8 inside the 20, the two misses were turnovers on downs, and two of the makes were field goals, which Whittingham has previously said he does not consider wins.
“That was probably our weakest area of offense tonight,” Whittingham said. “We just didn’t execute as well as we needed to, and they made plays.”
A fast 14-0 Utes lead in less than one half of the first quarter gave way to Oregon State and its rushing offense, settling in and finding the edge against the Utah defense.
At one point in the second quarter, the Beavers were averaging 8.9 yards per carry, getting to within three at 17-14, but a key defensive play from Utah helped swing the momentum.
On first-and-10 from his 25-yard line, Nolan scrambled to his left, only to have strong safety Brandon McKinney run him down and strip him from behind. The ball took a bounce, into the waiting arms of tackle Junior Tafuna, who got one foot in bounds to give Utah the ball back with a short field.
On the ensuing drive, Rising scrambled for 16 yards on third-and-10 down to the 3, then Tavion Thomas powered his way into the end zone on the next play for a 24-14 Utes lead with 46 seconds before halftime.