Utah Utes football: Washington puts hurtin' on Utes in team's Pac-12 home opener
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's highly anticipated Pac-12 home opener started off poorly. It turned out that way as well.
Washington spoiled the inaugural conference contest at Rice-Eccles Stadium with a 31-14 victory Saturday evening.
The game wasn't the only thing the Utes (2-2, 0-2) lost. They turned the ball over five times and quarterback Jordan Wynn was sidelined with a shoulder injury late in the first half.
"You can't turn the ball over five times against a quality opponent like the Washington Huskies," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said while lamenting his team's miscues and lost chances to score. "... Taking care of the football is job one. We didn't do it tonight."
It didn't take long for the Huskies (4-1, 2-0) to put a damper on things. They scored a touchdown just nine seconds into the game when the Utes' Ryan Lacy fumbled the opening kickoff and Jamaal Kearse returned it 18 yards for the score.
Although Utah managed to even the score at 7-7 midway through the first quarter, the 16-yard touchdown pass from Wynn to Dres Anderson failed to ignite a significant momentum shift.
That's because more turnovers surfaced, killing two promising drives by the Utes to start the second quarter. Wynn was intercepted on the first one, while a fumble by Anderson brought an end to Utah's next series. Both came deep in Washington territory.
Washington safety Sean Parker picked off Wynn's pass on the 4-yard line, and Desmond Trufant recovered the ball he jarred loose on the Huskies' 6-yard line.
Those missed opportunities proved costly. Utah trailed 10-7 at halftime after Erik Folk put the Huskies ahead with a 44-yard field goal as time expired. The kick was made possible by two Utah penalties that Whittingham called "ignorant" — a personal foul call and a roughing-the-passer flag.
At the break, Wynn's left shoulder "coming out of joint" issue grew worse and it was determined he couldn't play in the second half. Although Whittingham said it doesn't look good, Wynn's future status won't be evaluated until today or Monday. The junior, who had completed 12-of-17 passes for 149 yards and a score before getting hurt, was replaced by seldom-used backup Jon Hays. The junior college transfer was 0-for-1 passing on the season. He wound up completing 10-of-16 throws for 156 yards and a touchdown, but turned the ball over twice.
"I let the team down in the second half, I feel like. I think we could have won that game," Hays said. "We made some key mistakes and I made some key mistakes in the second half."
Washington pulled away after the intermission as the Huskies' offense heated up. They had 112 yards of total offense over the first two quarters, but finished with 411. Quarterback Keith Price ended up passing for 226 yards and three touchdowns, completing 22-of-30 throws. Running back Chris Polk netted 189 yards on the ground.
"The defense was the key to the game tonight," said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. "It got us through the first half until the offense could come around."
The Huskies opened the second half with a seven-play, 80-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard TD pass from Price to Kasen Williams.
An exchange of punts followed before Hays was picked off by Washington cornerback Gregory Ducre near midfield. Four plays and just over one minute later, Price connected on a 23-yard scoring strike to Jermaine Kearse.
Trailing 24-7, Utah punted on the ensuing possession. Washington responded with another touchdown drive to put the game well out of reach early in the fourth quarter. A 17-yard throw from Price to Devin Aguilar capped a 14-play march that took nearly eight minutes off the clock.
Utah's fifth turnover came shortly thereafter when Hays fumbled the ball while getting sacked by Lawrence Lagafuaina. Semisi Tokolahi recovered it on the Washington 35.
The Huskies wound up giving the ball back on downs near the end of the game, opting for a run play on fourth-and-21 from the Utah 31 with just over two minutes remaining.
The Utes countered with their first and only scoring drive under Hays, who threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Dallin Rogers with seven seconds remaining.
In the end, though, it proved to be far too little, far too late for Utah.
The outcome followed a bye week that followed a 54-10 victory at BYU. The Utes had seven takeaways in the rout.
"It felt like the complete opposite of two weeks ago," said left tackle John Cullen.
Things won't get any easier as a grinding schedule continues with Arizona State coming to town next week. At 0-2 in Pac-12 play, the Utes will have to dig themselves out of a hole to compete for the South Division title.
"We won't beat the guys next week if we don't take care of the football," Whittingham said.
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