SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah football team had a tough enough task playing the No. 10 team in the country Saturday night, but it became even more difficult when two of its top defensive players were ejected against Washington for targeting.
Marquise Blair, who was ejected in last year’s game against Arizona for targeting, was ejected in the second quarter for the same reason when he delivered a vicious hit on Washington running back Myles Gaskin at the UW 10-yard line.
The hit elicited some gasps from the crowd, but no flag was thrown on the play that left the Huskies two yards short of a first down. However, after a video review by the officials, Blair was given a 15-yard personal foul penalty and ejected from the game.
Although it didn’t lead to a score, it helped the Huskies get out of a deep hole in their own territory late in the first half.
Then in the third quarter, Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu was ejected after he was called for a personal foul when he hit quarterback Jake Browning late and led with his helmet. After a video review Fotu was disqualified from the game for targeting. He will have to miss the first half of Utah’s next game against Washington State.
That penalty was especially costly for the Utes as it came on a play when Cody Barton intercepted Browning’s pass at the 6-yard line. Instead, Washington got the ball at the 15 and scored five plays later on a pass from Browning to Ty Jones to make it 21-7.
When asked what he can to do to prevent targeting calls, coach Kyle Whittingham said, “We harp on it and teach it a certain way, but I guess we didn’t teach it good enough.”
As for losing two key defenders, Whittingham said, “It always has an effect on you when you lose good players. It’s next-man-up mentality and these guys have to step up and picki up the slack.”
Terrell Burgess replaced Blair at the strong safety position, while Pita Tonga took over at tackle.
TURNOVERS HURT: Coming into Saturday’s game, the Utes were already down 6-2 in the turnover department this season and it got worse against Washington as they turned the ball over three times, compared to once for Washington.
The first turnover came late in the first half, when the Utes were trying to put a score on the board. Tyler Huntley’s pass down the right sideline was picked off by Jordan Miller, which prevented a possible field goal try by Matt Gay in the waning seconds.
Then in the third quarter, a fumble by Britain Covey after a pass reception, gave the Huskies the ball at the Utah 44-line and eight plays later they scored.
Later in the quarter, Utah receiver Bronson Boyd fumbled after a reception, but the Huskies weren’t able to capitalize.
When the Utes finally got a turnover in the fourth quarter on an interception, by Tonga, they weren’t able to push in a score after getting to the 2-yard line.
Tonga picked off Browning’s pass at the 32-yard line and appeared to be heading for the end zone or close to it. However, at the 11-yard line, he lost control of the ball and it went out of bounds at the four.
“I wasn’t paying attention to how I was holding the ball and I was looking more at the defenders to see if I was going to get caught then it kind of slipped out and hit my leg,” said Tonga.
The ball was placed at the 11, but the Utes couldn’t score as a 4th-and-1 pass by Huntley bounced off the hands of Connor Haller.
“It was wide open – another drop,” said Whittingham.
MOSS HAMPERED: Zack Moss ran the ball just 13 times for 67 yards, but Whittingham said he wasn’t at full strength because of a sore ankle.
“We’re trying to get the most out of him that we can with what he has to give,” he said. “But he’s still not ready.”6 comments on this story
UTE NOTES: Attendance was 47,445, sixth-largest in school history . . . Utah is now 1-11 all-time against Washington with its only win coming in 2015, 34-23 in Seattle . . . The Utes came into the game in the No. 26 position in the AP poll as the first team out of the top 25 in the “others receiving votes” category . . . Utah was 8-2 in “blackout games” before Saturday night. The only losses had come to TCU in 2010 and UCLA in 2013 . . .The Utes had won three straight Pac-12 openers coming into the game . . . Right before the game, during the national anthem, a four-ship formation of F-35A Lightning II aircraft from the 388th Fighter Wing from Hill Air Force Base flew over Rice-Eccles Stadium . . . NFL scouts from Miami, Chicago, Carolina, Minnesota, San Francisco, Tampa Bay as well as a representative from the Holiday Bowl.