Defense leads No. 8 Oregon State past Utah 21-7Oregon State running back Storm Woods dives in just over the goal line for a touchdown during the first half of their NCAA college football game against Utah in Corvallis, Ore., Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) -- Oregon State's perfect start is more than a surprise. It's the best by the school in 105 years.
The eighth-ranked Beavers became bowl eligible Saturday night with a 21-7 victory over Utah, extending their unbeaten run to six games.
''You want to do it as fast as you can,'' coach Mike Riley said. ''And then you want to get to the best bowl that you can. So we've got the first part of that done.''
The Beavers have unexpectedly opened 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the Pac-12 after going 3-9 last season. This year, they were picked to finish last in the league's north division.
It is the team's first 6-0 start since 1907, when the school was the Oregon Agricultural College.
Against the Utes, it was the Beavers' defense that made the difference. The unit had an interception and a fumble recovery that led to a pair of first-half touchdowns in a game in which the offense struggled at times.
Defensive lineman Dylan Wynn said that's the goal of the defense - getting the ball back to the offense so it can score.
''If they need 100 (turnovers) we'll give them 100,'' Wynn said. ''So it definitely felt good we were able to give them something.''
Fill-in quarterback Cody Vaz, who made his debut last weekend as Oregon State's starter and threw for three touchdowns against BYU to earn Pac-12 player of the week honors, passed for 174 yards against the Utes. Storm Woods had 17 carries for 46 yards and all three Beavers touchdowns.
Vaz started a second consecutive game in place of Sean Mannion, who had surgery to repair meniscus in his left knee a little more than a week ago. Mannion was already back at practice and was Vaz's backup against the Utes.
Vaz made his first start since high school last weekend and threw for 332 yards in Oregon State's 42-24 victory over the Cougars. Against the Utes he completed 16 of 26 passes but looked shaky at times in the periodic rain.
Freshman Travis Wilson threw for 172 yards and a touchdown for Utah (2-5, 0-4), which opened conference play with four consecutive losses for the second straight season. In all, Utah had four turnovers.
''We did some good things offensively, but you can't turn the ball over four times. You just can't do it,'' coach Kyle Wittingham said. ''The name of the game, other than points, is winning the turnover margin. And we're just not doing that right now.''
Oregon State capitalized on Michael Doctor's interception of Wilson with a 1-yard scoring run from Woods, putting the Beavers ahead 7-0 late in the first quarter. Rudolf Fifita then sacked Wilson and forced a fumble that was recovered by Wynn, leading to Woods' 2-yard touchdown dash.
Wilson found Jake Murphy with an 18-yard scoring pass midway through the second quarter for the Utes' lone touchdown. Coleman Petersen missed a 43-yard field goal on Utah's first possession.
Utah threatened in the third quarter and got as close as the Oregon State 3, but DeVonte Christopher's fumble was recovered by Scott Crichton to end it.
With Mannion standing on the sidelines with his helmet on, Vaz got rolling with an efficient fourth-quarter drive that ended with Woods' 3-yard touchdown dive. Wilson answered with a drive of his own that stalled when he was sacked for a loss on fourth-and-9 on the Oregon State 18.
Sean Martin intercepted Wilson on Utah's final drive of the game.
''I take the whole blame on me tonight,'' Wilson said. ''I should've played smart with the football and made better plays.''
The fact that the offense struggled was also surprising for the Beavers, who relied on it last weekend against the Cougars.
''I think this team has found a way to pick each other up,'' Riley said. ''That's fine, I guess. But it would be nice to put it all together.''
Wilson passed for 220 yards in his first career start last week, a 21-14 loss to UCLA. Wittingham decided to stick with him this week over senior Jon Hays, who started three games this season after Jordan Wynn went down with a career-ending shoulder injury. Hays threw for two touchdowns against the Beavers last season, the Utes' first in the expanded Pac-12 Conference.
Last season the Utes ended their four-game skid to open conference play with a 27-8 victory over Oregon State that touched off a four-game winning streak.
Utah had won four of its last five games against the Beavers.