SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Whenever it seems Joe Williams won’t be available to Utah, he comes back and delivers.
Williams returned from a four-week retirement early in the season to help solidify a broken-down running back position. Then in the bowl game, he overcame an illness that forced him to miss a team meeting the night before and capped his career in style.
Williams ran for 222 yards and a touchdown, Andy Phillips kicked a 27-yard field goal with 1:24 to play and Utah beat Indiana 26-24 on Wednesday night in the Foster Farms Bowl for its 14th victory in its past 15 bowl games.
“We weren’t positive we’d have him tonight. He showed a lot of toughness,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I couldn’t be more proud of Joe to end his career as a Ute on this note.”
Williams had to check out of the game several times but shook off his own costly fumble to run for 64 yards on the final drive, setting up Phillips’ fourth field goal of the night.
“We prepared well these last few weeks so I just had to go out there like (Michael) Jordan did in ’97 in the flu game and just leave it all out there,” Williams said.
Tyler Huntley ran for another score and the Utes (9-4) forced three turnovers to spoil Tom Allen’s coaching debut at Indiana and improve Whittingham’s bowl record to 10-1.
“We’re carrying the mantle for hundreds of football players who have come through here and raised the bar to where it’s at,” Whittingham said. “We have to continue that tradition and this group did just that.”
Allen took over the Hoosiers (6-7) after Kevin Wilson’s sudden resignation this month. Allen had finished his first season at Indiana as defensive coordinator and is now tasked with rebuilding the team as he did in his one year with the defense.
He appeared to be off to a good start when the Hoosiers rallied from 10 points down to take a 24-23 lead early in the fourth quarter on Devine Redding’s 3-yard run following a fumble by Utah’s Zach Moss.
Indiana failed to capitalize on Williams’ fumble when Griffin Oakes missed a 40-yard field goal attempt with 5:34 left. That set the stage for Utah’s final drive.
Indiana’s last-gasp chance ended when Richard Lagow was hit on a desperation heave near midfield, sending the Hoosiers to their fourth straight bowl loss since their last win in the 1991 Copper Bowl.
“I’m tired of being close,” Wilson said. “I want to see us break through. But I just can’t say enough about how hard our kids played, how hard they worked. They take a tough situation and really came out against a really good football team and had our chances. Just got to learn to finish.”
Indiana: Allen’s debut started off well when Kyle Fulks fumbled the opening kickoff for Utah and Indiana turned that into a touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Lagow to Mitchell Paige. But the Hoosiers struggled on offense after that. Lagow went 14 for 39 for 188 yards and an interception. The receivers didn’t help with several drops, but Lagow was often off-target or had passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.
“It was just the little things kept nipping us in the bud,” All-America guard Dan Feeney said. “Fumbles here, interception there, we just never got rolling.”
Utah: The Utes took advantage of the bowl game to get a good look at freshman quarterback Huntley, who could compete with Troy Williams for the starting job next season. Huntley completed a 36-yard pass to Fulks on his only throw but was used much more in the running game. Huntley finished with 23 yards on eight carries with the touchdown.
The bowl announced that 27,608 tickets were distributed, but far fewer people were actually in the stands. The upper deck at Levi’s Stadium was tarped off for a game for the first time in the three-year history of the stadium and even then the stands still looked empty.
Indiana: Allen viewed the preparation and bowl game as the start of his first full season in 2017. The Hoosiers will jump right into it, hosting Ohio State in the season opener on Aug. 31.
Utah: The Utes will have a far easier opener, getting FCS-level North Dakota at home on Aug. 31.
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