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San Diego • A quarter away from seeing their season reach new lows, the No. 25 Utah Utes (9-2, 6-1) instead found something that had been missing the last two weeks the will to fight.
Left in the BCS dust by TCU and embarrassed by Notre Dame, the Utes battled back from a 17-point deficit to beat San Diego State 38-34 Saturday in front of 34,951 at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Utes avoided their first three-game losing streak since 2005 and maintained their hold on second place in the MWC standings with the win. Perhaps most importantly, the Utes gained back some of the confidence lost in their last two games as they go into next week's rivalry game against BYU.
Saturday's win was attained even though the Utes' defense seemed interested in playing only the second half.
The defense, which allowed San Diego State (7-4, 4-3) to score on drives of 74, 98, 79 and 86 yards in the first half, finally gave the Utes' offense a chance when a mishandled San Diego State punt was blocked by Greg Bird in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Christian Cox recovered on the Aztecs' 3-yard line and Utah running back Eddie Wide scored on a 1-yard run to give the Utes a 38-34 lead with 10:21 remaining.
Utah safety Brian Blechen preserved the win when he intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1:22 remaining, bringing to an end one of the Utes' wildest wins.
"The bottom line is the win, and I'm very proud of our guys for hanging in there," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "They never dropped down a bit. The first half was rough, particularly our defense, which couldn't make a lot of plays, and they made a lot of plays. We couldn't slow down the throw game. Finally in the second half, we started to make plays in the back end. It was a great win for our football team and I couldn't be more proud of our guys."
The Utes won the game even though they were outgained 93-38 in the fourth quarter. They outscored the Aztecs 14-0 in that period thanks to some big defensive plays.
San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley finished 36 of 54 for 528 yards and four touchdowns while Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn was 21 of 33 for 362 yards and two touchdowns. He threw passes to 11 different receivers, led by Jereme Brooks who had three catches for 63 yards.
The Aztecs' only touchdown in the second half came on a freak play when a scrambling Lindley threw a pass just out of reach of Utah defenders Justin Taplin-Ross and Conroy Black. The tipped ball fell into the hands of Vincent Brown, who raced to the opposite side of the field for a 90-yard touchdown, giving the Aztecs a 34-24 lead. It was his third touchdown of the night.
Utah's offense, which mustered just 10 points in the two previous games combined, held its own. The Utes scored three touchdowns in the second quarter with Luke Matthews scoring on a 57-yard pass from Wynn, Wide breaking loose for a 16-yard touchdown run and tight end Kendrick Moeai hauling down a tipped pass that he turned into a 47-yard touchdown play.
Running back Matt Asiata, who rushed 19 times for 87 yards, scored on a 1-yard run on the fourth play of the fourth quarter to put the Utes in position to overtake the Aztecs.
The blocked punt came on the Aztecs' next drive, setting up Wide's score.
San Diego State's next drive ended when Utah linebacker Chaz Walker intercepted Lindley on Utah's 12-yard line with 6:04 remaining. The Aztecs got the ball back with 2:36 remaining, but Blechen came up with his third interception of the season to seal the victory.
"We knew that we could hold it," Cox said. "Even with them driving down, it was so wet and tiring, and somehow we knew we were going to win."