TUCSON, Arizona – – Cameron Rising’s long hair was still wet during the post-game press conference, 30 minutes after the final whistle, giving an indication of a physical and bruised afternoon in the desert.
His Utah Utes had won a victory. It was much more difficult than expected.
“It’s not about the beauty,” Rising said. “It’s not about having glitz and glamor, it’s about getting the job done and that’s what we did here today.”
Rising threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns, TJ Pledger ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and Utah maintained their lead in the Pac-12 South by beating Arizona 38-29 on Saturday.
It was a hard-won victory for the Utes (7-3, 6-1 Pac-12, # 24 CFP). Arizona led for part of the first half and kept the game close all afternoon.
Rising’s perfectly placed 17-yard touchdown pass to Dalton Kincaid in the back corner of the end zone late in the third quarter gave the Utes a 31-20 lead and a semblance of control in the home and away game. .
It didn’t last long.
Arizona (1-9, 1-6) responded with a field goal to reduce the advantage to 31-23, then the Wildcats scored again when Nazar Bombata blocked a Utah punt and Rhedi Short. recovered before scoring a 3-yard touchdown to get closer 31-29 with about 10:30 am left. The Wildcats’ two-point conversion to a tie was unsuccessful.
Utah finally closed the game with a methodical 15-play, 75-yard practice that lasted over eight minutes. He was capped by Pledger’s 2-yard touchdown run with 2:10 left.
“We knew it would be a 60-minute physical fight,” Pledger said. “This is exactly what we got.”
The Utah offensive once again made a difference. The Utes have scored at least 34 points in five straight games. They took a 21-17 lead at halftime after Rising hit Brant Kuithe for a 2-yard touchdown two seconds to go.
Arizona had pushed 17-14 minutes earlier after Lucas Havrisik crushed a 57-yard field goal that cleared the crossbar with plenty of room to spare.
Arizona’s multi-year struggles have been well documented, but for a fourth straight week the Wildcats have proven to be a competitive opponent. They played against Washington and USC in October before ending their 20-game losing streak with a 10-3 win over California last week.
That momentum continued for most of the afternoon, but it couldn’t lead them to a second straight win.
“It’s the most upsetting I’ve seen in our locker room in a while,” said Arizona coach Jedd Fisch. “And I think it’s because they feel like we’re here. … You enter the game with the hope of winning.
Arizona’s Will Plummer finished with 219 passing yards and a touchdown.
Utah scored a touchdown in opening practice with two big conversions on the third down. Rising capped the practice with an 11-yard touchdown run, slicing into the corner of the end zone just inside the right pylon.
Arizona responded with a 43-yard touchdown from Plummer – the team’s only healthy stock quarterback – who dodged pressure from Utah and rushed to the middle to tie the game at 7 for all.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham scored his 141st victory, tying the program record originally set by Ike Armstrong, who led the program from 1925 to 1949. Whittingham is in his 17th season with the Utes.
“That’s what you call lousy winning,” Whittingham said. “You have to do it every now and then. If you’re a good team, you will. “
Utah was playing without leader Tavion Thomas, who was suffering from injuries and was sidelined as a precaution. Thomas ran for 177 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s win over Stanford.
Take it away
Utah: It was tougher than expected but the Utes won’t be complaining about the road victory. Rising threw big shots when needed and Utah moved the ball well even without Thomas in the backfield.
Arizona: The Wildcats continue to move in the right direction under Fisch, who is in his first season with the program. Once Arizona gets a little more talent on the roster, that should be a factor in the Pac-12.
Utah was No. 24 in the college football playoff standings, but just outside the AP’s Top 25. Depending on what happens with the other teams, the Utes could increase a few places in the CFP rankings and return to the AP rankings.
Utah: The Utes host Oregon next Saturday in a potential preview of the Pac-12 Championship game.
Arizona: The Wildcats face Washington State next Saturday.