SALT LAKE CITY — A slow start and a fast finish aptly described Utah’s 41-10 win over Weber State Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes overcame a double-digit deficit to prevail in a season opener for the 11th consecutive year.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said there was no panic when things didn’t start off well for the Utes. They trailed 10-0 with 5:14 remaining in the first quarter.
“We knew there would be adversity at some point in the game, didn’t know it would be right out of the gate,” Whittingham said. “But we handled it, we attacked it, and I thought the guys did a nice job — maintained their composure and their poise, didn’t panic and just started playing our game.”
The defense recorded the third-best outing in school history when it comes to yards allowed. Weber State finished with just 61, the fewest the Utes have given up since holding Idaho to 58 in 1953. The Wildcats managed only three first downs and were just 1 of 15 on third down.
“It was just a great defensive game really,” said safety Marquise Blair. “Everybody just did what they’re supposed to do.”
Offensively, Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley threw four touchdown passes, running back Zack Moss rushed for 150 yards, and versatile receiver Britain Covey made a splash with 64 yards rushing and 53 yards receiving. The Utes wound up with 587 yards of total offense and 25 first downs.
“We just knew that we had to make some plays,” said Huntley, who completed 24 of 39 passes with one interception.
Ravell Call, Deseret News
Utah players stop Weber State Wildcats running back Treshawn Garrett during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.
Weber State cashed in on a pair of takeaways to take the early lead. The first score — a 42-yard field goal by Trey Tuttle — followed a fumble by Covey on a punt return. Kallin Fisher recovered it for the Wildcats.
Trailing 3-0, Utah gave the ball back to Weber State on its next play from scrimmage when Huntley was picked off by Landon Slice. The linebacker returned the interception 30 yards to the Utah 2. Quarterback Kaden Jenks covered the rest of the distance for the Wildcats on first down. The touchdown and PAT that followed made it 10-0.
At the time, Weber State had 23 yards of total offense and one first down. Utah had six yards and no first downs. The Wildcats ran 13 plays, the Utes just four.
It didn’t take long, though, for the situation to change.
“Fast start. I thought they came out of the gate not intimidated and excited about the atmosphere,” said Weber State coach Jay Hill. “And then we proceeded to get our butts kicked. I was a little disappointed because I thought we were playing dang good defense there for a little while.”
Utah drove 75 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing possession late in the first quarter. The drive, which ended with a 3-yard scoring strike from Huntley to tight end Cole Fotheringham, began with a 26-yard run from Covey. Moss added 38 yards on four carries and an 8-yard pass from Huntley to tight end Jake Jackson was also part of the drive.
The momentum shift continued after Utah forced Weber State to punt for the sixth time. The Utes handed the ball off to Moss on first down and the junior ran a career-high 86 yards for the go-ahead score with 6:34 left in the opening half.
After Weber State punted again, Utah added a 35-yard field goal from Matt Gay just before the intermission. The 17-10 score, however, didn’t reflect the massive statistical advantages the Utes held in total offense (260-26) and first downs (10-1) after two quarters.
The disparity grew when play resumed. Utah’s defense held Weber State to three plays and a punt to start the second half. The offense, in turn, acted quickly. A 38-yard run by Covey put the Utes on the Weber State 11. Three plays later, Huntley and Moss teamed for a 9-yard touchdown toss. Gay followed with the PAT to increase Utah’s lead to 24-10 with 10:39 left in the third quarter.
It swelled to 31-10 exactly four minutes later. A 24-yard touchdown pass from Huntley to Siaosi Mariner capped a series that included an 11-yard run by punter Mitch Wishnowsky on fourth-and-5 near midfield.
Utah’s offensive assault continued in the fourth quarter. A 29-yard TD pass from Huntley to tight end Brant Kuithe concluded a nine-play, 83-yard march downfield with 14:43 left to play.
By game’s end, the Utes added a 33-yard field goal by Gay.
“I thought Utah did a phenomenal job of sticking to their game plan,” Hill said. “They might have called that a little slow at the start, but that’s what good teams do — they overcome that and then they kick butt. And that’s what they did.”
Both teams return to action on Saturday, Sept. 8. Utah is at Northern Illinois and Weber State travels to Cal Poly.