The Utes' bowl position was helped by Washington's upset at the hands of Oregon State, a result that exemplified how valuable Saturday's win was for the Utes. Life in the Pac-12 is never predictable or easy, but it seems it's always hard.
"People think you can just show up and win games," receiver DeVonte Christopher said. "But that is definitely not the case."
The Utes (7-4, 4-4) finally put away the Cougars (4-7, 2-6) in overtime when Utah's Mo Lee intercepted Cougar quarterback Connor Halliday to end Washington State's threat and Coleman Petersen made a 38-yard field goal.
It was Petersen's third field goal of the night. Despite snowy conditions and the pressure of being in a game-winning situation, Petersen said the kick felt normal to him.
"Once I cleared off my spot, I don't ever step in snow," said Petersen, who also made field goals from 33 and 45 yards. "My cleats were clean and my spot was clean, so I don't have any slips."
He was one of the few who didn't bungle any plays. The first half featured two offenses that struggled to move the ball, with Utah totaling 107 yards of offense to Washington State's 164 yards.
Even running back John White struggled, rushing 15 times for 49 yards.
The second half was the opposite, as Utah's defense gave up several big plays, the passing game came alive despite snowy conditions, and White finally wore down the Cougars' defense.
White finished the game with 42 carries, three shy of tying the school record set by Carl Monroe against UTEP in 1982. He finished with 186 yards and two touchdowns, the last of which was a 56-yard run that put the Utes ahead 27-17 with 6:38 remaining.
Just when the Cougars seemed done, Washington State scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Halliday to Jared Karstetter with 3:14 remaining. The Cougars got the ball back with 52 seconds remaining on their own 25-yard line. Halliday connected with Karstetter again for passes of 24 and 44 yards, then threw a 6-yarder to Marquess Wilson at the 1-yard line.
The Cougars stopped the clock and kicked a 17-yard field goal as time expired to set up overtime.
Halliday finished 21 of 48 for 290 yards.
"It was a great college football game," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We had chances to put it away there at the end and let them off the hook, but credit them for finding a way to get the game into overtime."
The Utes finished with 358 yards of total offense to Washington State's 399 yards. Utah's defense had four interceptions, three of which came in the first half.
"It's very untypical for us not to close somebody out when we have a lead like that," Whittingham said. "But that freshman quarterback is a heck of a player and the receiver, Wilson, is a heck of a receiver. They found a way to make plays in the second half, and we didn't. The flip side of that is we found ways to make plays in the second half."
R In short • Coleman Petersen makes a 38-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Utes past the Cougars.
Key moment • Mo Lee intercepts Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday in overtime to set up Utah's winning possession.
Key stat • John White rushes 42 times for 186 yards and two touchdowns. His carries were three short of the school record set by Carl Monroe against UTEP in 1982.