Cameron Rising means everything to this team and his injury proved be quite costly

(Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

Winning is more fun than losing, but losing the second-straight Rose Bowl game is rather brutal experience. Unfortunately, Utah was unable to overcome an injury to their star quarterback Cameron Rising in this one, and that ultimately where this game changed for Utah. Here are some post-game thoughts:  

Cameron Rising: Looking at the stat sheet, it’s easy to assume that Cameron Rising didn’t play great. And to be clear, his 38% completion percentage was not great.  But make no mistake about it, he kept Utah in this game and made the plays Utah needed from him when they needed them most. He clearly appeared to be more like his pre-injury self, which was a dynamic dual-threat capable of moving the chains through the air and on the ground. 

There were mistakes but it was clear that Rising was doing his best to keep Utah in this contest. This Penn State defense is extremely tough, and yet, Rising kept the offense going toe-to-toe, blow-for-blow with the bad guys. He helped guide his squad to a 14-14 tie at halftime and then had the offense marching down the field to begin second half.

That was until a QB keeper run mid-way through the 3rd quarter that resulted in an injury and forced him to make his exit from the game. After a trip to the injury tent, Rising made his way to the locker room before returning to the sidelines in street clothes. The injury absolutely changed things for the Utes. At the very least, the confidence and mojo the squad held with him was certainly different once he exited the field. 

It absolutely stinks that for two straight years, Rising has suffered an injury in the Rose Bowl. Who knows how these games would play out with him in there but the fact he has now suffered injury in both that have resulted in losses is brutal. 

Sadly, not only did it potentially cost Utah a chance at their first Rose Bowl win, his injury appears to be quite serious according to initial diagnosis. Obviously, the ultimate cost is what it means for Rising himself. He’s been through an serious injury before, to do it again, would be tough. As the Utes prepare to enter the off-season, depending on the severity of the injury, it may change a number of things for program moving forward. 

Utah Is Close But Just Not There Yet:  Unfortunately, another successful season comes to an end with a sour taste in the mouth as Utah is unable to come away with the victory in this one. Obviously, give Penn State all the credit for taking advantage of opportunities and limiting Utah’s. However, the Utes just shot themselves in the foot too many times, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Utah was able to remain competitive until an injury to Cameron Rising, which proved to be the death knell for Utah’s chance at a win. 

From a bigger picture perspective, Utah is competing at a higher level in college football. Two Pac-12 titles in two years has been significant for the program, in terms of its prestige and the respect they’ve earned. The talent throughout the roster has improved and with their highest ranked class signed to date, the talent will continue to improve moving forward. Clearly though, it’s not enough just yet. The Utes have the star power to compete but they need to continue raising the bar of the talent beyond the top options to break through in these sort of matchups.

With the college football playoff soon to be expanding, the need for more talent only grows. It’s clear that Utah has enough to accomplish great things but it still has another step to take from a talent perspective to earn their breakthrough. The ‘next man up’ mantra represents Utah so well, but Utah needs more from those next men as well. 

The Defensive Second Half: After a decent first half effort where Utah held Penn State to 14 points and forced three Penn State punts (Utah punted just once in the first half), the defensive secondary was ripped apart at the seams. Sean Clifford and the PSU passing attack came to life as they would 279 passing yards, which ended with seven explosive plays including an 88 yard touchdown on a 3rd down deep from their own territory. 

The secondary and coverage just wasn’t what it needed to be tonight. Coming into the game, this wasn’t a potent passing attack but Clifford and PSU were efficient and took advantage of opportunities when there. That was the case again tonight and Utah simply gave up way too many easy ones.

It’s clear that this defense has tremendous potential. It’s also clear there are some weak links and issues that need to be ironed out. Utah has brought in a talented signing class that features a handful of secondary players and also welcome home another safety from his mission. Utah needs to continue to bolster the talent but more importantly, evaluate who and what works and raise the level play from this group. 

Ja’Quinden Jackson, Micah Bernard, and The Run Game: Man, were these two good tonight. Bernard got the nod as starter and did most of his work early on, while Jackson came on late in the 1st and helped carry the load the rest of the way. The two combined for 140 yards on 24 carries, which is a 5.8 per carry average, and included four runs of at least 10 yards including a 19-yard touchdown and 30 yard scamper by Jackson. They did their best to keep Utah in this one, running for tough yards and creating big chunk plays when the opportunities were there. The offensive line did a good job of generating movement up front throughout the night, it wasn’t great at times, but more often than not, it was enough. 

Again, beyond this game these two clearly established themselves as the go-to playmakers in the run game and that’s quite exciting for the future. Jackson has immense potential and he’s put that on full display these last two games. Bernard serves as an excellent complement to him and these two could be key to a strong run game next year. 

Still Trending Up: Look, now is not the time to remind you that Utah is still trending up as a program. A loss like this is a tough pill to swallow. It’s not fun hearing opposing fans chant as the game comes to an end. It’s never to be reminded of the big picture at a time like this. 

HOWEVER… 

It’s never more important to remember the big picture than after a loss like this. Utah has trended upwards in so many ways over the last few years. Yet, there are still growing pains and plenty of room for improvement. This staff has elevated the program to this stage and they’ve done it the right way. That right way comes with ups and downs. Unfortunately, Utah wasn’t able to make another step of progress tonight, but just like the Pac-12 title game, eventually they broke through.

Utah has a collection of players that will be back next season, which will keep them competitive at a high level. The coaches have to go back to the drawing board and evaluate how they coach. The players will evaluate their play and try to elevate their own game as well. 

Overall, this game went about as expected until Rising’s injury. Once Utah’s QB1 went down, it hurt in so many ways. The second Rose Bowl loss in as many years is a rather sour taste. Now, with Rising’s injury status and future in question, the program is at an interesting crossroad. 

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