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Utah beats UCLA 44-24 behind four Tavion Thomas touchdowns

The Utes’ path to a Pac-12 South title just got a little clearer

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) celebrates his touchdown in the first half as the University of Utah hosts the UCLA Bruins in Pac-12 football, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Final: Utes 44, Bruins 24

Devin Lloyd breaks up a fourth-down pass and Cam Rising lines up in the victory position.

Utah is now firmly in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 South title.

Next up: a Friday night matchup with Stanford.

Tavion Thomas does it again

UCLA came into the night as the No. 1 run defense in the Pac-12, giving up 94.8 yards per game.

Tavion Thomas has not been impressed.

Thomas just dashed 24 yards for his fourth TD of the game. Thomas now has 160 rushing yards on 24 carries.

Cam Rising, special teams star

The quarterback has 162 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-26 passing. He has 63 rushing yards and a score on the ground.

He has now also dropped two (2) pooch punts inside the 10-yard line.

His second punt of the night pinned the Bruins on the 6, leading to a sack by Hauati Pututau in the end zone for a safety. Utah now leads 37-24.

UCLA won’t go away

The Bruins’ quarterback play was a question mark at the start of the night, with starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson sidelined by injury. But backup Ethan Garbers has given UCLA chance. The QB just hit tight end Greg Dulcich for a 9-yard score.

The Utes lead 35-24 with 11:04 to play in the game.

Fast start to the fourth

After celebrating the lives of Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan with a moment of loudness, the Utes needed just one play to find the end zone. Cam Rising scampered 12 yards on a designed run to pad the Utes’ lead, 35-17.

Tavion Thomas crossed the 100-yard rushing mark during the drive.

UCLA cuts into the lead

Two big defensive penalties helped the Bruins get the first points of the second half.

In the end, Ethan Garbers found Michael Ezeike for a 6-yard score to make it 28-17.

INT sets up another TD

With linebacker Devin Lloyd suspended for the first half, Nephi Sewell has stepped up. Big time. Sewell already have seven tackles when he picked off Garbers to give the Utes the ball on the 21.

Tavion Thomas, behind some terrific blocking from Utah’s short-staffed offensive line, punched in his third score of the first half.

Utah leads 28-10.

Utah 21, UCLA 10

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) throws a pass against UCLA during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Those red-zone struggles that doomed Utah last week against Oregon State?

No sign of them so far tonight.

Three drives, three touchdowns for Utes. This time Cam Rising finds Dalton Kincaid on a short pitch-and-catch to cap a seven-play, 75-yard drive.

Utah 14, UCLA 10

Facing a 4th-and-1, UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet broke a tackle in the backfield and raced into the endzone from 30 yards out. Earlier in the drive, quarterback Ethan Garbers kept the ball for 3 yards on a 4th-and-2. Garbers also converted a fourth-down keeper on the Bruins’ opening drive.

Tavion times two

Tavion Thomas finds paydirt once again. On the first play after the retirement ceremony, Thomas’ 8-yard rush made it a 14-3 game.

Not to be lost in this drive: Dalton Kincaid’s hands. It looked for a moment as though Rising was about to be picked off — and it easily could have been six points the other way — by UCLA’s Quentin Lake. Instead, Kincaid somehow ripped the ball away for a 16-yard gain.

Utah retires No. 22

The late Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe will be honored forever at the U. Between quarters, the university held a ceremony to retire the No. 22 jersey the two Texas men both once wore.

Earlier in the day, other Pac-12 schools honored Lowe and Jordan by painting the hash marks on their 22-yard lines red.

UCLA settles for a field goal

Ethan Garbers’ first drive was enough to get the Bruins into field goal position. After a 28-yard kick by Nicholas Barr-Mira, Utah’s lead is 7-3.

Tavion Thomas puts the Utes on the board

Utah strikes first. Utes running back evaded tacklers on the left edge to run the ball in from 10 yards out. Utah leads 7-0 early.

Update: He won’t

UCLA’s radio broadcast is reporting that Ethan Garbers will start in place Dorian Thompson-Robinson. It’s the first career start for the redshirt freshman. In spot duty this season, Garbers is 4-for-7 passing for 40 yards and one interception.

Will he or won’t he?

What’s on the line tonight?

Control of the Pac-12 South.

After Washington State upset Arizona State earlier, the Utes currently sit alone atop the division, and a win tonight would give Utah a clear path to the title. With a loss, however, UCLA would leapfrog to the top of the South standings.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.

The Bruins may have to go it without star quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. DTR’s status has been in question since he suffered an injury on the final offensive drive of the Bruin’s loss to Oregon last week.

Thompson-Robinson hardly looked like a player preparing for a big game when he took the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium two hours ahead of kickoff. The quarterback’s throwing hand was wrapped and he was lobbing passes with his left hand instead.

But Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utes were expecting to face UCLA’s QB1.

“He’s a tough kid, he’ll play,” Whittingham said on Monday. “He’ll be there, I’ll be shocked if he’s not there.”

And as it got closer to game time, DTR was looking a little more like himself.