SALT LAKE CITY — Utah football is streaking these days. Hours after knocking off USC 41-28 for their third consecutive win, the Utes entered the Associated Press Top 25 for the fifth straight year.
“We’ve got some momentum right now,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We built upon the last two wins (Stanford, Arizona) and we’ll enjoy it for 12 hours and get on to the next guys.”
The Utes (5-2, 3-2) face UCLA (2-5, 2-2) Friday night in the Rose Bowl. They do so on the heels of a strong showing by the offense and defense against USC. The outcome gave Utah a share of the Pac-12 South lead and a tiebreaker over the Trojans.
“It’s good to beat them and stay in the race,” Whittingham said. “We all know our backs are against the wall.”
Utah knows the feeling well. The Utes trailed USC 14-0 before reeling off 34 points to seize control of the game. Quarterback Tyler Huntley paced an offensive attack that wound up netting 541 yards and 27 first downs.
Huntley insists he came out with a mindset, even when the Trojans took an early lead.
“We’re not losing,” he said.
The Utes have scored 40 or more points in three straight Pac-12 games for the first time. It’s a milestone they haven’t reached in three consecutive outings, as a matter of fact, since a run against New Mexico, San Jose State and Iowa State in 2010.
“We put in a lot of work over the summer and in the spring for games like this,” said running back Zack Moss. “And that was the message, to come out here and play our ball, and we did that.”
Moss finished with 136 yards rushing on 25 carries. It was one of several highlights on a night when Huntley completed 22 of 29 passes with four touchdowns. He also had a rushing score. Samson Nacua led the receiving corps with five catches. Britain Covey wound up with the most receiving yards (79) and was joined by Demari Simpkins, Solomon Enis and Jake Jackson in scoring touchdowns off passes from Huntley.
“The offense is clicking at a perfect time right now. Everyone is believing, and we’ve got so much confidence,” Moss said. “It’s very hard to beat a team that believes in itself more than anybody else on this planet, really.”
Utah’s defense also had a stellar performance. The Utes held USC to 73 yards rushing, the fifth time this season they’ve held an opponent to under 100 yards on the ground.
The Trojans finished with just 205 yards of total offense and 10 first downs. Senior linebacker Chase Hansen had a team-high 11 tackles (three behind the line of scrimmage) and an interception. The team captain acknowledged they were expecting some adversity along the way.
“It’s just part of the game. That didn’t change anything that we do,” Hansen said of the 14-point deficit the Utes overcame. “Sometimes stuff just happens throughout the course of a game, and you just bounce back. We kept playing our football. I think our confidence never left.”
After scoring touchdowns on a 34-yard pass from J.T. Daniels to Michael Pittman and on a 48-yard fumble return by former Bingham High star Jay Tufele in the first 9:02 of play, USC came up empty on eight straight possessions. The Trojans punted five times. They were intercepted twice and missed a field goal at the end of another drive.
“The offense has been clicking for a while. I think it just makes us really dangerous when the offense and defense are both playing really well,” Hansen said. “There were a few mistakes here and there, and again, like I’ve said, I think we’ve got some things to fix. But the offense killed it.”
Hansen wasn’t celebrating all that much as he walked off the field.
“I’m happy we won,” he said. “But we’ve still got more games to come, and there’s a lot of really great teams we’ve got to play.”
Besides Hansen, several Utes had big games against USC. Linebacker Cody Barton made eight tackles and had a pass breakup. Safety Marquise Blair (five tackles), defensive linemen Leki Fotu (four tackles, one sack) and Hauati Putuau (four tackles, one sack), and cornerback Jaylon Johnson (interception), were among the other standouts on defense.
USC, at one point, was 0-for-10 on third downs.
Even so, Hansen added that there are things the defense needs to brush up on. He said it was a tough game and he was feeling a little tired.
The victory, however, sent a message concerning Utah’s division championship aspirations.
“Hopefully it says something, but at the same time statements don’t mean much,” Hansen said. “We’ve still got to go to UCLA and play against another really talented team. So, it’s kind of just every week you’ve got to prepare and every week is going to be a grind.
“It’s fun, I’m glad we got the win, I wish we wouldn’t have let so many points up on the board, but that’s just how it goes sometimes,” he added.62 comments on this story
EXTRA POINTS: Senior Matt Gay made two field goals and four PATs. … Senior punter Mitch Wishnowsky averaged 47.7 yards on three punts. … Whittingham said that a fumbled punt return and a blocked punt were “inexcusable.” However, he’s confident the miscues will get cleaned up. … Utah and USC have split their past six games with each team winning at home three times.
No. 23 Utah (5-2, 3-2) at UCLA (2-5, 2-2)
Rose Bowl — Pasadena, Calif.
Friday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700AM