SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s eighth false start penalty of the first half brought out boos from its homecoming crowd. Luckily for the Utes, a second-half rally was enough to avoid spoiling the occasion.
Quarterback Troy Williams ran for two touchdowns and threw another, helping No. 24 Utah come back to beat Arizona 36-23 on Saturday night.
Utah (5-1, 2-1) trailed 14-12 at halftime after committing 11 first-half penalties, including all those false starts. Arizona (2-4, 0-3) scored on the first snap of the game when Brandon Dawkins connected with Shun Brown for a 75-yard TD pass, taking advantage of blown coverage that left Brown completely uncovered.
“We’re a pretty decent football team if we would stop some of the self-inflicted stuff,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We did some things to create tough situations for us that we’ve got to get fixed. We had far too many penalties tonight.”
The Utes scored 26 straight points after falling behind 14-3. Williams got both of his running TDs in the second half and had 245 yards passing for the game. Armand Shyne also ran for a TD in the third quarter, while the defense tightened up and forced two second-half turnovers and allowed just nine points. Shyne finished with 101 yards on 19 carries.
The Utes moved into a tie atop the Pac-12 South with Colorado. They ended a four-game losing streak to Arizona. After beating Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has defeated every active Pac-12 coach since joining the conference in 2011. Whittingham also got his 100th career victory.
Arizona: The Wildcats allowed more than 400 yards for the fifth consecutive game. Fans will be happy to have Dawkins back, but Arizona was held to 127 yards rushing, including just 78 from players other than Dawkins. The sophomore quarterback threw for 243 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and also ran for a score. Freshman Khalil Tate finished the game for the second consecutive week.
“I don’t think our defense wore down,” Arizona linebacker Michael Barton said. They just kept attacking and we just tried to fight as best we could. We had a lot of new guys in there today, guys who hadn’t played any snaps before today.”
Utah: USC’s win over Colorado helped the Utes move into a tie for first, but they can’t feel great about it. The offense finished with fine statistics, but most of the positives came in the second half against a team that entered the game ranked No. 104 in the nation in total defense. The defense allowed a season-high 475 yards.
“We had a few big plays made on us, but we bounced back every time they happened,” Utah safety Marcus Williams said. “We never put our heads down. We just kept grinding through the game and we just got this win.”
“What do you want me to do, quit?” Rodriguez said when asked about keeping the morale high. “We’re just going to go down here and hitchhike home and go feel sorry for ourselves and just cancel the season.
“Is that what you expect? You want those coaches and players in there to quit? Just because we lose a game or two? C’mon, these guys are going to fight.”
Utah is unlikely to get a whole lot of credit after squeaking past a 2-4 team that’s 0-3 in the Pac-12. Any significant jump is likely due to losses by No. 15 Stanford, No. 17 North Carolina and No. 21 Colorado.
Both teams entered the game with several injuries to significant players. Dawkins started for Arizona after leaving last game with a rib injury, but running back Nick Wilson (ankle) did not play.
Utah was without running backs Zack Moss and Troy McCormick, starting receiver Tim Patrick and top two centers J.J. Dielman and Lo Falemaka. Shyne was carried off the field by teammates after suffering a left leg injury on a fourth-quarter run. Whittingham said the injury could be season-ending.
Arizona: The Wildcats host USC in Pac-12 South action on October 15.
Utah: The Utes travel to face former defensive coordinator Gary Andersen and his Oregon State Beavers on October 15.