All signs pointed to another huge upset victory for Utah entering the fourth quarter against Arizona State.
The Utes smothered the high-powered Sun Devil offense for three quarters. Arizona State could do little to make plays work or generate positive yards against the Utah defense. It appeared Utah was on its way to taking down another ranked Pac-12 foe at home.
Everything fell apart in the final minutes, however, and the Utes came away with another disappointing home loss.
Taylor Kelly ran for a touchdown and threw for another in the fourth quarter and No. 22 Arizona State came from behind to beat Utah 20-19 on Saturday.
"We didn’t finish," Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly said. "That’s on our defense. We had a 12-point lead, but we didn’t protect it. In the first three quarters we were shutting them down, but we didn’t keep it going in the fourth quarter."
Kelly finished 19-for-31 passing for 144 yards and Marion Grice rushed 20 times for 136 yards to keep the Sun Devils (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 South title. 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.
Reilly sacked Kelly on the 2-point conversion attempt. But it made little difference with Travis Wilson throwing interceptions on his final two drives.
The second one by All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton sealed the victory when he came down with the ball at the line of scrimmage with 1:01 left at the Utah 25.
"They really forced us to stay home and play at-home defense," Sutton said. "I’m so happy about this win. We played smart, disciplined football."
Wilson finished 6-for-21 for 121 yards for Utah (4-5, 1-5 Pac-12) – a tough outing punctuated by his interceptions on the Utes’ final 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 appeared headed to delivering another upset win to pair with the one they sprung on Stanford last month.
But Arizona State clamped down in the fourth quarter 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.
When it mattered most in the fourth quarter, ASU held the Utes to 17 yards and one first down. Arizona State has won 10 straight against Utah.
"That’s what our offense does," Kelly said. "We kept fighting through adversity. Guys were coaching each other and keeping guys up. We weren’t going to quit."
Wilson threw a long pass down the sideline to Anderson on the first play of the second half – his first completion over 8 yards – 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.
"That’s the best we’ve been defended," Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. "They did a tremendous job. We got a lot of negative yardage plays. They did a great job of keeping us out of rhythm."
Phillips kicked a career-long 51-yard field goal in the second quarter to boost Utah in front, 9-7 at halftime. The Devils managed just 91 yards in the first half after rolling to more than 530 yards in three straight games.
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.
Dres Anderson bobbled a pass on a crossing route but finally collected it before crossing the goal line for an 8-yard score. The extra point try was unsuccessful. Wilson completed only one other pass in the first half.
Playing with an injured throwing hand, Wilson is just 18-for-44 with six interceptions in the last three games.
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 put the game in the hands of the defense.
"I don’t think we were too conservative," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We called the game the same way and it wasn’t very different as far as run-pass ratio. If you can’t protect your passer, then you have to try to run."
Utah had won 49 consecutive games when leading at halftime, but now owns the longest active losing streak by one current Pac-12 program to another, dating to a 1976 win over ASU.