They played with a lot of passion, with that chip on their shoulder, and that was a real point of emphasis all week. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY – It may be too early to tell if Utah’s 48-17 win over UCLA on Friday night is the beginning of a turnaround.
But it was a welcome respite from a month of struggling through one of the worst stretches in Kyle Whittingham’s head coaching tenure.
“That was one of the most miserable stretches of my career,” Whittingham said in a postgame radio interview with ESPN 700. “But those things happen, and you’ve got to fight your way out of them.”
His defense said they found their swag.
His offense seemed to finally found a rhythm, maybe even the beginning of an identity.
Special teams was reliably stellar.
And the team, for at least one night, returned to its roots.
“For tonight, we did,” Whittingham said of whether the team had its "edge" back. “We’ll see. You know, it’s one game. We had the right mentality tonight. They played with a lot of passion, with that chip on their shoulder, and that was a real point of emphasis all week. Our program is in the Pac-12 because we played with a chip on our shoulder all those years.”
There was as much relief in the postgame smiles as there was joy.
“I feel like we just played more physically today,” said Sunia Tauteoli, who led the team in tackles with 12 — three of those solo. “We took it to them. We didn’t wait around, wait for things to happen. We just took it.”
Like his coach, these past few weeks have been difficult, especially as they’ve struggled in areas that have been cornerstones of the program like the run game and the defense.
“Having those couple of losses, well more than a couple of losses, but it kind of drags on the team,” he said.
Running back Zack Moss laid the groundwork for what coaches called their best offensive outing this season with the Utes’ traditional tough-to-stop ground game. He finished with 153 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry.
“It feels good,” Moss said, only offering a slight smile. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time. We’re wanting to get this team back on track. We did what we do best. It felt good.”
He said establishing the run game early so that Huntley and the receivers could open up the passing game was the plan.
“I think we got our swag back in the first half,” he said of the second quarter when the game began to shift in Utah’s favor. He noted that cutting down on a few mistakes allowed them to really roll in the second half.
“It just feels great to get a win,” Huntley said. “The defense did a great job keeping them out of the end zone. As an offense we did a good job putting the ball in the end zone. It was kind of fun today, just to get a win.”
Whittingham said the offense gave fans a glimpse of what Troy Taylor would like to see every week. The Utes finished with 272 rushing yards and 506 total offensive yards. Conversely, the defense held the Bruins, also 2-4 in the Pac-12, to 249 total offensive yards.
The win was Huntley's fifth 200-yard passing game this season, and he was 15 of 22. Senior wide receiver Darren Carrington had four catches for 51 yards, including a jaw-dropping 25-yard touchdown grab — his sixth of the season.
“That’s what the offense is supposed to look like,” Whittingham said. “What you saw tonight is what this offense is supposed to look like.”
If there was any concern after the game it was in what the Utes may have lost to injuries. Carrington left at halftime, because Whittingham said "he couldn't finish the game."
That didn't hurt the Utes as other receivers picked up any slack seamlessly, with senior running back/slot receiver Troy McCormick enjoying the best performance of his career. He finished with 88 yards and two touchdown catches, including a 75-yard touchdown reception on the first play of the third quarter.
"That was, without a doubt, the best our offense has looked," Whittingham said. "Especially those last three quarters."