The difference between a bad, good or great season can be just a few plays that a team either makes, or doesn't make. That was the exact difference for Utah between the 2013 and 2014 season, as Utah was as able to make just a handful more plays this year, and that helped lead them to a 9-4 record, rather than 5-7 like the past two years. There are a lot of plays that could be considered "impact plays" during Utah's 2014 season, but here are the 10 that stick out the most.
10. Travis Wilson TD pass to Kenneth Scott in OT vs Stanford
After scoring on the first play of the first OT, Stanford scored a touchdown of their own and then added a 50 yard field goal in the second OT. Up until the two overtime periods, Utah's offense had been completely lackluster and it seemed impossible that they could score anything more than a field goal. After a huge 3rd & 7 conversion, and a Wilson run and Booker catch, Utah was facing 3rd and 1 at the 3 yard line. Most thought a Devontae Booker run was coming, including the Stanford defense. Kenneth Scott was the lone WR split out to Wilson's right and put a great move on the Stanford corner, acting like he was running a fade, before quickly cutting across the middle on a slant. Scott was all by himself over the middle and Wilson placed the ball perfectly inside and low, where Scott would have been the only one able to catch it, had he actually been covered. It's a pretty simple play, and isn't incredibly impressive, but it won the game for Utah and gave them their second straight win over the Cardinal.
9. Nate Orchard forces Nelson Agholor out of bounds
In terms of importance to the season, this play should probably be close to the top of the list. However, it didn't include any incredible feats of athleticism or strength, and also involved just a little bit of luck. Down by 4 with 2:13 left on the clock, USC faced a 4th and 2 at the Utah 28. Lined up in an I Formation, Cody Kessler faked the handoff to Buck Allen and flipped it out to Agholor on a sweep. Defensive end Nate Orchard played it perfectly, and was faced one on one with Agholor out on the edge. Agholor gave Orchard a little shake, then committed to the outside. Orchard is able to put just enough pressure on Agholor that it forces him to step out of bounds a yard short of the first down. Utah gets the ball back after that play, and the rest is history.
(The play takes place at beginning of video below)
8. Dominique Hatfield Pick 6
Early in the 4th quarter, up 34-31 and facing a 2nd and 9 at their own 21 yard line, Sefo Liufau and the Colorado offense dialed up a running back screen that turned in to what would be the game winning touchdown for Utah. Quick pressure from Nate Orchard forced Liufau to deliver the pass probably earlier than he wanted to, and it ended up sailing over the RB and right in to the arms of cornerback Dominique Hatfield for an easy touchdown. Colorado had scored on 2 of their last 3 drives, and had been carving the Ute D up all day long, so the turnover and touchdown was a huge momentum swing for the Utes. Great pressure by Orchard to force the bad pass, but an even better play by Hatfield to be in the right place at the right time, and make the easy catch for 6.
7. Kaelin Clay punt return for touchdown vs Michigan
Tied at 3-3 in the 2nd quarter, the Ute defense had just forced another 3 and out when Kaelin Clay took the field for his first punt return of the day. It would also be Clay's first time touching the ball on that day, and boy did he make it count. A short, low punt from Michigan gave Clay a lot of running room, and the Ute special teams set up a nice wall to Clay's left. Clay followed that wall, got around a couple defenders and then displayed great balance to stay in bounds after nearly being tackled by the punter. Clay waltzed in to the end zone, and even showed off his Heisman pose in the Big House. Clay had previously taken a punt and kickoff back for touchdown against lowly Idaho State, but I think most Ute fans started believing that Clay was well worth they pre-season hype after this play.
6. Kendal Thompson TD Pass to Dres Anderson vs UCLA
In what was a short season for star receiver Dres Anderson, this catch will stick out as one of his best plays of his great career. Anderson was able to corral a deep, high pass from Kendal Thompson, while being double covered, and put the Utes up 14-0 over UCLA early in the first half. Anderson out jumped both defenders, and then secured the ball with basically one hand while falling down in the end zone. Just an incredible play, and one that will be remembered for a long time.
5. Devontae Booker 53 yard rush vs Oregon State in 4Q
I'm pretty sure most Ute fans remember just how bad the Ute offense looked against Oregon State, and that's why when they were faced with 94 yards ahead of them, down 4 with just 7:41 left in the game, most thought Utah wouldn't be able to get a go ahead score. A couple short runs, a pass completion to Dres Anderson and a defensive pass interference call got Utah to their own 41 yard line. Utah lined up in a 4 wide spread look with Booker next to Wilson in the gun, and Wilson handed the ball off on a simple inside run. The offensive line opened a nice hole, Booker made one guy miss at the line of scrimmage and then he was off to the races. Booker was eventually dragged down at the 6 yard line, but the Utes scored 4 plays later to take the lead. Booker eventually won the game for Utah with two touchdown runs in both overtimes.
(Run is first play in the video below.)
4. Andy Phillips 29 yard FG vs UCLA
Phillips built upon his very successful freshman season with another great season in 2014, which featured this game winner against UCLA. Phillips got some help from Kendal Thompson and Devontae Booker on this one, as they two led an impressive 4th quarter drive to get Utah down to the 12 yard line, where Phillips hit this field goal to put Utah up with just 34 seconds left in the game. Phillips made a lot of big kicks in 2014, but this was the biggest one.
(Play happens at 3:23 in video below)
3. Travis Wilson 18 yard run vs USC
Talk about a play that pretty much exemplified the Utes season. At the 19 yard line with 26 seconds left in the game, Wilson dropped back to pass on 2nd and 3. When his first read wasn't there Wilson took off to his left and almost for sure looked like he was going to run out of bounds for a pedestrian 5 yard gain. USC thought so, most the crowd though so as well. Wrong. Wilson hit the brakes, cut up field and had an almost free lane to the end zone, up until the 4 yard line. With two defenders in front of him, Wilson attempted to dive over them for the touchdown. Is he in?? Yes! Wait...no he's not. Replay review rightfully overturns the call on the field and the Utes will have the ball at the 1 yard line. An emotionally draining play that had Ute fans screaming and cheering for the touchdown, only to hope that Utah could get that last yard before time ran out.
(Run takes place at 0:51 mark below)
2. Eric Rowe PBU vs Stanford in 4Q
This play didn't wind up scoring any points for Utah, but it did prevent Stanford from kicking a likely game winning field goal before the end of regulation. Facing a 3rd and 3 from their own 42 yard line with 0:17 seconds left, Stanford lined up in a shotgun formation with 2 WR's to wide side of the field. Utah lined up in a Cover 1 man to man defense, which left Eric Rowe one on one with the Stanford receiver to the outside of the formation. Rowe gave the receiver about a 7 yard cushion at the LOS, and the receiver runs a straight "go" route. Kevin Hogan takes a 3 step drop and throws to the streaking receiver. The receiver has outside leverage on Rowe, but Rowe does a good job of closing that gap and is right on his man at the moment the ball arrives. The throw from Hogan is near perfection and the ball lands in the receivers’ arms for what looks like a big play for the Cardinal, but as the receiver falls to the ground, Rowe is able to get his arm in between the receiver and the ball and rips the ball out of the receivers’ possession. Stanford ends up punting the ball on the next play and Utah goes on to win in 2OT. Had that pass not been broken up by Rowe, Utah very likely loses that game on an easy Stanford field goal.
(Play happens at 3:34 in video below)
1. Travis Wilson touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay vs USC in 4Q
There were a lot of dramatic plays on this night in Salt Lake City, but none bigger than Travis Wilson hooking up with Kaelin Clay in the end zone with just :08 seconds left in the game, giving Utah a 24-21 lead. After a huge 4th down stop deep in their own territory, Utah drove nearly 70 yards down the field, down to the 1 yard line after a HUGE Travis Wilson run that nearly scored the game winner. Utah had two, maybe 3 shots at getting in to the end zone from 1 yard out, and failed to do so on their first attempt as Devontae Booker was stuffed at the LOS by the USC defense. After a timeout, Utah lined up in a shotgun formation with 2 WR's to the left and 1 to the right. Clay motions over to the right before the snap and takes off in to the flats at the snap. Wilson rolls right and delivers a perfect pass to where only Clay can catch it, and boom! Game winner! Clay hauls in the catch, the celebration begins and Utah is only :08 seconds away from a huge home win, and their first win over USC as a member of the PAC 12. One kickoff and Nate Orchard sack later, and it's official. As they did so many times this season, Utah found a way to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat. There are a lot of memorable plays from the 2014 season, but none were bigger than this.
(Play happens at 2:13 in video below)
Top 10 "Impact" Plays of 2014
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