Cam Rising gives No. 20 Utah the lift it needs to stun No. 7 USC

By Bryan Fischer
FOX Sports College Football Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — Cam Rising was back where he had been before.

Needing a score with the clock ticking down, the Utah quarterback knew what it was like to get to the brink of a big win and experience heartbreak.

In the season opener against Florida, Rising made a bad decision and was picked off on the 6-yard line after leading a masterful drive into the red zone. The loss colored the Utes’ season as an initial disappointment given the opportunity on the road at an SEC opponent. The frustration of yet another slow start to a season for the program was further cemented in a lackluster effort getting blown out at UCLA last week.

Against No. 7 USC and in front of a record crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night, however, Rising didn’t let history repeat itself. Instead, he authored an improbable 43-42 last-minute comeback that injected new life into the Pac-12 title race and allowed the reigning champions a sliver of hope at getting back to Las Vegas come December.

Cameron Rising seals Utah’s victory

Utes star Cameron Rising converted a two-point conversion to help seal No. 20 Utah’s upset of No. 7 USC.

“Well, that certainly has to go down as one of the most exciting games in Rice-Eccles history,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Cam Rising is a competitor, a warrior, you name it.

“It’s been a great, great feeling to have him at the controls of the offense.”

To say Rising did a little bit of everything to earn the victory might be an understatement. He ran for a team-high 60 yards and three touchdowns, including the eventual game-winner with 48 seconds left and the ensuing two-point conversion. He passed for 415 yards and two scores, as well. For good measure, the junior caught a pass for nine yards.

That the signature moment of his Utah career so far came against USC made it that much more special for the Southern California native who grew up about an hour north of campus. That it came against Lincoln Riley, well, that was somewhere on the spectrum between coincidence and irony. 

After transferring to Utah from Texas, Rising was knocked out his first start, which came against the Trojans in Salt Lake City back in 2020. A few years before that while coming out of high school, he had at one point been verbally committed to Riley at Oklahoma. But he never made it to Norman for play for the young, prodigious head coach. 

Now, Rising can claim to forever be linked with Riley after authoring the coach’s first loss at Troy.

“Guys just didn’t stop believing,” said Rising. “We had the common goal of going out there and executing, just be as clean with everything as we can.”

Emerging with a win was especially meaningful given the sentiment of the team coming into the contest. Utah wore black jerseys and custom hand-painted helmets that featured the likenesses of former teammates Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, who were both killed in tragic shootings in the past two years. The families of both players were in attendance, and their mothers received game balls after making it back to the locker room amid a raucous field-storming from the biggest crowd in school history.

“In between the third and fourth quarter, you know our tribute (to Jordan and Lowe) that we put up gives us a boost every game,” Whittingham said. “I think our players feel the same way, and it’s a great way to continue to remember those two young men.”

Utah honors Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe

The Utah Utes honored Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe with custom helmets for their game against the USC Trojans. 

Following the video board message and fans holding up their cell phone flashlights in unison, the Utes tied and eventually went ahead with two fourth-quarter drives of 79 and 75 yards. The latter also included a nearly untouched scamper from Rising across the goal line on a two-point conversion, which came after no hesitation from the coaching staff. A final defensive stop as time expired provided a fitting cherry on top.

One player who channeled the emotions of the night into production was Dalton Kincaid. The tight end was constantly running free against a cardinal and gold defense that lead the country in sacks and turnover margin coming in, catching all 15 passes thrown his way to the tune of 217 yards and one touchdown.

And if Kincaid wasn’t rumbling down the field to move the sticks, he was frequently drawing numerous defensive flags to extend drives, too. 

“The officiating was very poor tonight,” a frustrated Riley said afterward. “But we should have still won.”

There was some truth to that statement, but also sour grapes on that front for USC, which seemed to be in cruise control early before finding itself in a fight as halftime drew near.

Quarterback Caleb Williams’ numbers — 25-for-42 for 381 yards and five touchdowns, plus 57 yards rushing — might not have been quite as stellar as Rising’s, but they were indicative of his ability to carry the Trojans down the field when things were not going to script. The Heisman Trophy contender opened the game with three straight trips to the end zone, including a second-quarter score that saw him pirouette out of a sack, backpedal like a 1950s quarterback and eventually buy enough time to hit freshman Kyron Hudson

It didn’t help matters that star receiver Jordan Addison injured his lower leg on a reverse and missed the fourth quarter as a result. The recent Biletnikoff Award winner had a team-high seven catches for 107 yards and a touchdown but watched the final few drives on crutches following a trip to the locker room. The same was true of linebacker Eric Gentry, one of the few defenders capable of making plays in the game, who also limped off down the stretch just as Utah was awash in momentum.  

Both were key players in the Trojans’ ascent up the polls and helped fuel the growing talk that Riley’s first season could conclude with a trip to a place he knows well: the College Football Playoff. A loss in Salt Lake doesn’t completely rule that out, especially on a weekend where fellow top-10 teams Alabama and Oklahoma State also lost on the road, but it does make the path forward much more straight and narrow with just one ranked team currently left on the schedule.

Utah fans storm the field

The No. 20 Utah Utes wasted no time rushing the field after beating the No. 7 USC Trojans.

The outcome allowed both USC and Utah to draw level with USC at 3-1 in conference play, leaving No. 11 UCLA and No. 12 Oregon as the conference’s only undefeated teams. The Bruins and Ducks will meet in Eugene next week, guaranteeing that one of them will be knocked from those ranks. 

“This keeps us in the race, there’s going to be a lot of football left,” added Whittingham. “I still believe nobody will go through the Pac-12 schedule undefeated and, you know, history has borne that out.”

The Utes might not mind if the past repeats itself in that manner down the road. On Saturday night, however, they were appreciative it didn’t completely do so thanks to their veteran quarterback, who knew exactly what to do with the ball in his hands and a second chance to leave a mark.

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Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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