By the time the fourth quarter rolled around at Stanford late Friday night, the University of Utah had already sufficiently dominated a football game it was going to win.
Its offensive line won that battle up front all night, three running backs were on their way to at least 100 yards each, Cam Rising didn’t have to do a ton, and the defense had by far its best showing through nine games.
It wasn’t until the Utes were already up, 38-7, early in the fourth quarter that Devin Lloyd provided the lasting memory of the evening.
A 13-play, 71-yard Utah drive ended on downs at the Stanford 3-yard line, so the Cardinal took over right there. On third-and-9 from the 4, quarterback Jack West took a shotgun snap while lined up just inside the goal line.
As West scanned the left side of the field, Lloyd came charging from his linebacker spot, but was picked up by a lineman. West threw to his left, only to have Lloyd jump with his arms up, snatch the pass out of the air while jumping, come down with it cleanly, turn around and take two steps into the end zone for the second touchdown of his career.
“When it happened in real time, I said, ‘What just happened?’ because it was so bang-bang,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. “You look at the replay board and it was still like, ‘How did he do that?’ The ball was four feet away and thrown hard, but he had the hand-eye coordination and the awareness and the anticipation to make that play.”
Whittingham is correct about the bang-bang nature of the sequence, which may lend itself to not fully appreciating the moment.
Lloyd needed to have the instincts to get his arms up as West attempted the pass, the athleticism, and maybe a touch of luck, to corral it after he got his hands on it, and the immediate wherewithal in the split second between catching the ball and landing on his feet to turn for the end zone.
For what it’s worth, Lloyd has experience handling the ball. Between his junior and senior seasons at Otay Ranch High School in Chula Vista, Calif., roughly 10 miles outside San Diego, Lloyd had 52 catches for 877 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I think without a doubt that helps him out,” Whittingham said. “I think ball skills come into play as a DB more than a linebacker, but he’s maximized just about every opportunity to have an interception because he does have outstanding hands, and that stems from his experience as a receiver way back when.”
With the short pick-six standing as the highlight, Lloyd has steadily cobbled together a resume befitting a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
His team-high nine tackles on Friday included a career-high five for a loss, in addition to the interception and a pass breakup. Lloyd’s 80 total tackles rank third in the Pac-12, while his seven sacks lead the league. Defensive end Mika Tafua has 6.5 sacks to rank No. 2 behind Lloyd. His three interceptions are tied for second-most in the Pac-12, but tied for most among linebackers with Cal’s Nate Rutchena and Arizona State’s Darien Butler.
In the immediate postgame aftermath Friday, when everything was still raw and no one had had time to process anything, even Lloyd was surprised that he came down with the ball. Still, he predictably downplayed the moment in the haze of a 52-7 win that kept Utah in control of the Pac-12 South with three games to play.