Zack Moss caught receiver Britain Covey's unorthodox pass and plowed through Arizona's tacklers for a tough, 6-yard gain, recording Utah's initial first down Friday night.
After that play, everything seemed easy. And when Covey’s next trick-play pass went to quarterback Tyler Huntley for a 58-yard touchdown to start the second half, this was game was over — if there was any question at that point.
Utah rolled to a 42-10 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the team's most overwhelming performance of the season, punctuated by Covey's mock bow-and-arrow celebration of his dagger pass. Maybe the Utes could have saved that play for USC or another opponent more challenging than Arizona, but they deserved to have some fun to complete the first half of a once-frustrating season that's getting better all the time.
The Wildcats (3-4, 2-2 Pac-12) were done after the Utes (4-2, 2-2) scored touchdowns on their first two drives and Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate exited with an ankle injury. By halftime, Utah held a 28-0 lead and a 295-114 advantage in total yards (the Utes finished with 495 yards). Huntley’s touchdown catch came after he passed for two scores and ran for another — a triple-TD feat last performed by Troy Williams at USC last October in a game that did not end well for Utah. This episode was quite different.
The history of this series in the schools' Pac-12 era suggested Arizona would be a more difficult obstacle for Utah. Twice in this decade, the Utes were coming off upsets of Stanford, only to lose to the Wildcats.
As it turns out, there was absolutely no chance of that happening Friday. Every coach talks about wanting a fast start in games. The Utes actually are doing it lately. “If you execute in practice, there's a good chance you'll execute on game day, and that's what's been going on,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The Utes established themselves with a 15-play drive on their first possession, with Moss (twice) and Covey determinedly fighting for third-down conversions. And they just kept coming. The Utes ran and passed almost equally on that opening drive, and their running success later set up some big-strike pass plays.
“We really have found an identity as a team, and it's obvious to see,” Covey said. “You know what you're going to have to stop when you play us, but it's easier to say than to do.”
The Utes showed consistency, not complacency. They maintained their momentum from last weekend's win at Stanford, instead of going backward. Maybe it was true what linebacker Chase Hansen had said: Remaining motivated would not be “too tough, because it's not like we've won that many games yet.”
Make it two in a row, with USC coming to town next Saturday.
“When the offense and defense are clicking at the same time, I feel like we're a pretty dangerous team in the conference,” Hansen said after Friday's win.
Hansen and the other Ute defenders were relentless, sacking Arizona's three quarterbacks once each in the first half and pitching a shutout, preserved when the Wildcats missed a field goal at the end of the half.
Protected well, and aided by a consistent running game, Huntley was brilliant in the first half. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns — a difficult grab by Samson Nacua in the end zone and a deep throw that Demari Simpkins extended his arms to catch and turned into a 68-yard score in the second quarter. Huntley also ran for a touchdown, one of the Utes' two scores on fourth-and-1 plays. Playing three quarters, Huntley accounted for 323 yards of passing, rushing and receiving, although he threw an interception for Utah’s first turnover in 12 quarters.
This was just the kind of dominant performance the Utes wanted. Not even against FCS member Weber State in the season opener or against Group of Five school Northern Illinois did the Utes enjoy a half of football quite like Friday's first 30 minutes.
The Utes lost some steam in the second half as Arizona cut the lead to 35-10 and threatened again. Yet the Utes' margin was comfortable enough for the coaching staff to use backup players in the fourth quarter, with quarterback Jason Shelley making his first appearance since the opener. Armand Shyne ran 22 yards to make it 42-10, with his first touchdown since October 2016 vs. Arizona.
EASY WIN FOR THE UTES
• After routing Arizona, Utah has won consecutive Pac-12 games for the first time since October 2016.
• The Utes, 2-2 in conference, move into a third-place tie with Arizona in the Pac-12 South.
• Kyle Whittingham has been involved in 200 victories in 25 seasons as a Ute assistant or head coach.