SEATTLE (AP)The past month looked, and felt, so easy for No. 9 Utah. One blowout after another. No tests for the Utes to answer.
They knew traveling to Washington would be different, and they were right. The Utes were challenged; falling behind early and rallying late, and in doing so solidified their spot in the College Football Playoff conversation.
Tyler Huntley threw for one touchdown and ran for another, Jaylon Johnson returned an interception 39 yards for a score, and No. 9 Utah overcame an 11-point first-half deficit to beat Washington 33-28. The Utes did their part in keeping pace in the Pac-12 South race and bolstered their CFP resume with a road win over a talented opponent in a place where it’s never come easy for Utah.
”It says a lot. We’ve had a lot of games, the last three games or whatever it’s been by putting up 40 points and our defense looking impeccable,” Utah running back Zack Moss said. ”When we can do this and come on the road and win a game like this and doing it the way we did, that’s what championship teams do and that’s what we’ve been missing the last couple of years.”
The Utes (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) picked up just their second all-time win over the Huskies – oddly enough both coming in Seattle – leaning on a defense that forced Washington quarterback Jacob Eason into three turnovers and got just enough offense from Huntley and friends to rally from an early 14-3 hole.
Huntley hit Moss on a 9-yard TD late in the first half and added a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to give Utah its first lead, 26-21. Huntley’s TD run capped a drive that featured a key third-and-12 conversion where Huntley was able to hit Jaylen Dixon for a 41-yard completion.
That was the appetizer before Huntley’s brilliant fourth quarter. Huntley added a pair of key third-down conversions on Utah’s final scoring drive, hitting Solomon Enis for 14 yards and Samson Nacua for 28 yards. Moss finished the 84-yard drive with a 2-yard TD run with 4:52 left and capped a 30-7 scoring blitz from the Utes.
Huntley finished 19 of 24 for 284 yards. He was sacked four times – Utah had allowed just seven all season – but all came in the first half and the Utes were able to protect Huntley much better as the game progressed. He was 5 of 6 for 96 yards in the fourth quarter.
Moss finished with 100 yards on 27 carries.
”It’s up there for me,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ”I’d have to go back and look at them but it’s up there. It’s very, very satisfying, especially under the circumstances.”
Washington (5-4, 2-4) dropped its second straight after losing to Oregon two weeks ago and lost for the third time at home this season. Eason was 29 of 52 for 316 yards and four touchdowns. He had a nearly perfect beginning before a pair of critical mistakes in the third quarter.
”They controlled the clock. That’s their game. They did it better than us,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. ”Those turnovers hurt, hurt bad.”
Eason threw an 11-yard TD to Jordin Chin on Washington’s first possession, and despite a fumble leading to a Utah field goal early in the second quarter, Eason’s 34-yard TD pass to Hunter Bryant gave the Huskies a 14-3 advantage.
But it got significantly more difficult for Eason from there. Leading 14-13, Eason foolishly threw into triple coverage on the first drive of the second half and was intercepted by Julian Blackmon at the Utah 8. Eason rebounded with a 40-yard TD to Bryant, but his next major mistake came later in the quarter when Utah brought a blitz. Eason made a carless throw that was an easier catch for Johnson than intended target Aaron Fuller, and the interception return pulled the Utes within 21-19.
”I knew by the way he aligned and his tendency to run an out route. I just took a chance on it and made the play,” Johnson said.
Eason threw a 3-yard TD to Fuller with 1:01 left to pull within five, but Utah recovered the onside kick and ran the clock. Eason was 17 of 35 in the second half, and the Huskies had a series of dropped passes to go along with the turnovers.
”Just got to play four quarters,” Eason said. ”I don’t know. I don’t know what the problem is right now. We’ve got to fix it.”
With Florida’s loss, expect Utah to move up a little in the AP Top 25. The big question will be where the Utes fall in the first CFP poll that comes out this week.
Utah: The Utes entered the week with the best run defense in the country, giving up just 56 yards per game. The Huskies finished with 53 yards rushing, most of it coming in the first half.
Washington: Petersen’s streak of being unbeaten coming off an open date came to an end. In his career at Boise State and Washington, Petersen’s teams had been 18-0 when coming off an open date.
Washington’s thin wide receiver corps took another hit when promising freshman WR Puka Nacua did not play due to a broken foot suffered in practice. Nacua underwent surgery and Petersen said is expected to be out at least four or five weeks. The Huskies were also without Chico McClatcher, who was hurt late in their last game.
Utah: The Utes have an open date before hosting UCLA.
Washington: The Huskies have a short week, traveling to Oregon State on Friday.
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