3 takeaways from Utah's dramatic comeback win over Baylor
Utah won that football game.
The Utes trailed 10-3 in the first half. It was a painful day to watch on the offensive side of the football without Cameron Rising. Bryson Barnes got the start at quarterback and struggled to find any rhythm at all for much of the afternoon.
Then, suddenly, Utah flipped to Nate Johnson in the fourth quarter and embarked on an eight-minute touchdown drive to tie the game at 13-13. Then Cole Bishop came up with an interception to set up a game-winner. Then Jaylon Glover fell into the endzone for the touchdown. Then the Utes walked off the field with a 20-13 win.
Without its leader, Utah played ugly. But Utah escaped with a road win over a Power Five opponent to move to 2-0 on the year. Sometimes, the win is all that matters.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
In the early morning hours on Saturday, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reported that Utah was possibly targeting the Sept. 23 Pac-12 opener against UCLA for Cameron Rising to make his return to the field.
The Utes spent the offseason publicly displaying confidence their star quarterback would be ready for the season opener against Florida last Thursday. After offseason ACL surgery, Rising was limited in fall camp and then ultimately unavailable for the Gators. Bryson Barnes filled in during a 24-11 win.
The first-play touchdown pass to Money Parks warped the perception. It was a so-so game from Barnes, helped out by a dominant performance from the Utah defense. The Utes showed no confidence in Nate Johnson’s ability to throw the football, and it put a big giant question mark over the Baylor game.
Barnes went 6-for-19 for 71 yards and an interception.
Utah punted on its first two drives, then Barnes was picked off on a poor decision to end the third. A drive that featured runs of 44 and 22 yards ended with a field goal. (You score touchdowns on those drives.)
Barnes had Devaughn Vele in the first quarter on a third-and-9 and just missed him. On a fourth-and-10 in the fourth, Barnes threw into four Baylor defenders and was nearly intercepted. Whether it was holding it a touch too long or misfiring, Barnes just didn’t have it.
The gameplan early looked like Utah was playing to avoid a mistake, avoid a loss. Barnes is a veteran. You’d like to see more from a guy who has been in the system for a few years.
When the Utes finally went to Johnson late in the fourth quarter, Johnson produced in a pressure spot. He took over at the Utah 12, down seven, and drove for a touchdown. Johnson completed four of his five passes on the possession and paid off a 15-play drive with a touchdown run up the gut on third-and-goal from the 7.
And that gave Utah a jolt of energy.
Johnson finished with 82 yards passing and 32 yards rushing. One touchdown. No turnovers. He also completed six of his seven passes.
Why exactly did it take so long for Utah to pivot from Barnes to Johnson? Will it stick with Barnes against Weber State? Or has Johnson finally done enough to wrestle the No. 2 job away?
Utah desperately needs Rising back by Sept. 23 at the absolute latest.
Defense stepped up
Baylor dictated the terms in the first half. The Bears had the Ute defense guessing.
Take away the one 47-yard completion on Baylor’s final possession of the game that proved to ultimately be toothless. In the second half, Baylor gained 70 yards on the 21 other plays. That’s 3.3 a play. (Utah ran 45 plays in the second half.)
Utah outscored the Bears 16-3 in the second half.
A week ago, a shorthanded Utah defense manhandled and mauled the Florida Gators. It was not the best opening half in Week 2. But whatever Kyle Whittingham challenged the Utah defense with at halftime worked. That group was firing off the ball, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Following Johnson’s touchdown to tie the game, Utah’s defense faced its biggest possession of the young season. They stuffed a first-down run. They then picked off a third-and-16 pass. Cole Bishop — who had two tackles for loss and four total stops — ended the drive and set up the game-winner for the Utes.
HUGE INT!! Let's go!!
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) September 9, 2023
Ja’Quinden Jackson gets a shout-out
The Utah tailback looked like he was banged up a week ago. He was briefly knocked out of the game Saturday. He’s clearly not healthy. And yet he was the guy that kept Utah’s offense in the game.
Baylor was not threatened by the pass game. The burden was entirely on Jackson and the ground game to move the football.
Jackson ran hard. He had 19 carries for 129 yards. He would have had the game-winning touchdown if not for a silly holding penalty.