SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Near the end of an exhausting game, 305-pound Will Sutton admitted he didn’t rush the quarterback hard because he was trying to catch his breath.
The decision worked out OK for the All-America defensive lineman.
Sutton was in the right place to reach up and grab the first interception of his career. The pick snuffed Utah’s last chance for an upset and secured No. 23 Arizona State’s 20-19 comeback victory Saturday.
Sutton said Utah quarterback Travis Wilson said was looking the other way, “so I kind of drifted over there. I put my hands up and the ball just ended up in my hands. Everybody was more excited than me. I was still just trying to catch my breath.”
No one was more thrilled than Sun Devil quarterback Taylor Kelly, who couldn’t generate much offense until two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
“That’s what our offense does. We kept fighting through adversity. Guys were coaching each other and keeping guys up. We weren’t going to quit,” said Kelly, who ran for a touchdown and threw for another in the final period.
But it took Sutton’s interception at the line of scrimmage with 1:01 left at the Utah 25 to clinch the win.
“I just came back to the sideline with a giant smile on my face, knowing we just sealed the deal. We got away,” Sutton said.
Stifled by Utah’s aggressive defense for most of three quarters, Kelly helped keep the Sun Devils (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 South title.
“Our guys are hard to stop once we get things rolling. Utah did a great job defensively, scheming what we were doing,” Kelly said. “They were bringing pressure from everywhere. Once we started figuring it out and moving the ball, our defense did a great job.”
Kelly finished 19 for 31 passing for 144 yards and Marion Grice rushed 20 times for 136 yards. Grice busted through the Utah line and rumbled 38 yards to set up Kelly’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Richard Smith with 2:37 to play to make it 20-19. Utah’s Trevor Reilly sacked Kelly on the 2-point conversion attempt.
“We didn’t finish. That’s on our defense. We had a 12-point lead but we didn’t protect it,” said Reilly, who had nine tackles and 2.5 for loss.
Wilson was 6 for 21 for 121 yards for Utah (4-5, 1-5 Pac-12) and threw interceptions that ended the Utes’ last two drives. Wilson hit Sean Fitzgerald for a 12-yard touchdown with 5:19 left in the third quarter to give Utah a 19-7 lead, and the Utes looked prime for a second home upset to go along with the one they sprung on Stanford last month.
“That’s the best we’ve been defended,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “They did a great job of keeping us out of rhythm.”
But Arizona State clamped down and Kelly scored on a 2-yard keeper after leading a six-play, 70-yard drive in the fourth quarter to make it 19-14 with 13:12 left.
“I saw defensive guys going to the offense end and saying, `Hey, just keep plugging. We can win this game. They’re not scoring,'” Graham said.
Wilson threw a long pass down the sideline to Anderson, who had four receptions for 100 yards, on the first play of the second half which led to Andy Phillips’ 43-yard field goal.
Utah’s defense slowed the Sun Devils’ quick-strike offense, which routinely runs more than 80 plays and rolls up more than 515 yards a game. The Utes sacked Kelly six times and allowed only one reception over 20 yards but the Sun Devil defense was even better.
When it mattered most in the fourth quarter, ASU held Utah to 17 yards and one first down.
Phillips kicked a career-long 51-yard field goal in the second quarter to boost Utah to a 9-7 halftime lead.
On the game’s opening possession, Kelly capped a 10-play, 71-yard drive by rolling out and dashing 10 yards for a touchdown. After that, Kelly faced wave after wave of Utah defenders until the fourth quarter.
Wilson threw an 8-yard TD pass to Dres Anderson, but the extra point try was unsuccessful to make it 7-6.
Arizona State has won 10 straight against Utah. The Utes had won 49 consecutive games when leading at halftime.
“I’m very proud of this team to win the way they did. Our guys didn’t panic and we played well defensively, especially down the stretch in the fourth quarter,” Graham said.
Dennis Erickson, who was the head coach for ASU from 2007-11, is the co-offensive coordinator for Utah. Considering Wilson’s shaky confidence, Erickson called 46 rushes and 21 passes and put the game in the hands of the defense.
“I don’t think we were too conservative,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “If you can’t protect your passer then you have to try and run.”
Playing with an injured throwing hand for the better part of three games, Wilson is 18-for-44 with six interceptions. Utah had 80 yards in penalties to 14 for ASU.