The Utah players thrust their black helmets into the air, singing the school’s fight song in front of the student section inside Rice-Eccles Stadium, the entire group flushed with grins. When it was over, Darren Carrington II, Utah’s star senior transfer wide receiver, limped toward the locker room.
He showed no sign of frustration after missing the second half with an undisclosed injury. He bent down to high-five young fans trailing him and posed for older fans who asked for pictures. It was the kind of night Utah waited more than six weeks for. And naturally the Utes got their groove back thanks in large part to Carrington, the constant threat in what had been an otherwise struggling Utah offense.
After thumping UCLA 48-17 on Friday night, putting an emphatic end to the longest losing streak in four seasons, did the Utes (5-4, 2-4) find what they were searching for?
“Most definitely,” Carrington said. “We had our little down [moments] for a little while, but it’s definitely time to get back to Utah football. Today was the start of it.”
Kyle Whittingham took his seat at the dais postgame, making the most appropriate declaration after the runaway win over the Bruins.
“Heck of a lot better than the last four weeks,” Utah’s coach said.
Whittingham made it known earlier this week that he felt that during that four-game losing skid, his team’s identity — the one that helped it into the Pac-12 era — had gone missing. Utah needed to retrieve it. He called it an “edge” in his Monday news conference.
“That was a point of emphasis all week is our program’s in the Pac-12 because we played with a chip on our shoulder all those years,” he said. “That was the point of emphasis this week, getting back to that mentality.”
The Bruins were in Utah’s way, and the Utes pushed them aside with their best offensive performance of the season. The 506 yards of total offense was a season high. Quarterback Tyler Huntley was as dynamic as he was in September, running back Zack Moss rolled over the nation’s worst rushing defense and the Utah defense got back to its stifling, hard-hitting ways.
“We took it to them,” said senior linebacker Sunia Tauteoli, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles. “We didn’t wait around for things to happen.”
Facing a redshirt freshman quarterback instead of a potential No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft helped the cause. Utah held UCLA to 249 yards of total offense and just 12 first downs. The intangible Whittingham referenced throughout the week was on full display. For one night, at least. Now it’s up to the Utes to keep that going, he said. To use the streak-snapping victory as a springboard, not just let it float as a one-off.
The Utes, Whittingham added, played angry against UCLA.
“Just proud of our guys,” he said. “Four tough weeks. It could’ve just spiraled out of control. The leadership stepped up.”
And Utah got back to doing what it does best: Dominating the trenches on both sides.
“Football never changes,” Whittingham said. “That’s just about every week what it’s all about.”