CORVALLIS, Ore. — Joe Williams got the call Monday. Would he consider coming back to the Utes?
“It was a quick yes,” the running back said.
With just a week of practice, Williams came out of retirement and ran for 179 yards and a touchdown for No. 21 Utah on Saturday in a rain-soaked 19-14 victory over Oregon State.
The senior who left the team following the second game of the season finished with 34 carries and the Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) became bowl eligible with the victory.
“It’s like riding a bike,” he smiled.
Trailing 12-7, Oregon State (2-4, 1-2) got as close as the Utah 9 with 8:25 left in the game, but couldn’t score and Garrett Owens’ 27-yard field goal attempt went wide left.
After quarterback Troy Williams ran for an 8-yard touchdown to extend Utah’s lead, the Beavers scored on Marcus McMaryion’s 14-yard pass to Hunter Jarmon for the final margin. But ultimately Oregon State couldn’t overcome its first-half struggles.
The game was costly for Oregon State. Starting quarterback Darell Garretson (ankle) and backup Conor Blount (knee) were both on crutches following the game. Running back Ryan Nall (foot) left the game after one carry.
“Yeah, we’re down a few guys, but that’s another reason I’m proud of this group,” Oregon State coach Gary Andersen said. “They kept on fighting.”
Joe Williams’ return to practice this week was spurred by a spate of injuries to Utah’s running backs corps — a concern because the wild weather expected for the game would undoubtedly impact the passing game.
Utah had lost sophomore running back Armand Shyne for the season during a 36-23 victory over Arizona last Saturday. Junior Jordan Howard made his debut at running back following Shyne’s injury, but he was able to play against Oregon State, presumably because of injury. Junior Troy McCormick and freshman Zack Moss were also unavailable.
In addition to pulling Joe Williams out of retirement, the Utes switched wide receiver Cory Butler-Boyd to running back this week.
“It was great to have him back, it was a huge blessing for us,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said about Williams. “It was nice to have an experienced guy like Joe back in the lineup.”
Oregon State started Nall, who was seen in a boot earlier this week. But after a carry for 32 yards in the opening quarter, he did not return. Nall rushed for 221 yards and three touchdowns last week in Oregon State’s 47-44 overtime victory over Cal.
Following Joe Williams’ touchdown, the Utes also scored on a safety and Andy Phillips kicked a 25-yard goal to take a 12-0 lead into halftime.
Oregon State closed the gap with an 18-yard touchdown run from Artavis Pierce, but Owens missed a 51-yard field goal attempt midway through the third quarter that would have gotten the Beavers closer.
Utah: Safety Chase Hansen had an interception a sack and two tackles for loss — all in the first quarter. … Troy Williams was impacted by the weather, completing just four of 13 passes for 42 yards.
Oregon State: After a sloppy first half that included just 55 offensive yards, the Beavers exploded for 107 yards in the third quarter as they narrowed the game. … Garretson completed just four of 20 passes for 24 yards before he was injured in the fourth quarter.
Utah became bowl eligible with the victory, and should hold steady in Sunday’s AP Top 25. The Utes were tied at the top of the Pac-12 South with Arizona State and Colorado going into the game, with the Sun Devils facing the Buffaloes on Saturday night in Colorado.
BLAME IT ON THE RAIN
The rough weather was caused by the remnants of a Pacific typhoon and led to widespread power outages in Western Oregon. The crowd for the game was meager, with many wearing orange rain ponchos, but they cheered when the sun briefly came out in the second quarter and “Walking on Sunshine” blared from the Reser Stadium PA system.
QUOTABLE: “Our O-line was blocking something vicious,” said Butler-Boyd, who finished with 54 yards rushing.
Utah: The Utes play a second straight game on the road at UCLA, which played at Washington State on Saturday night.
Oregon State: The Beavers visit No. 5 Washington, which had a bye this week. The Huskies are coming off a 70-21 rout of Oregon last weekend.