Corvallis, Ore. • Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s observation would have been true, almost regardless of how his team’s game vs. Oregon State played out Saturday night at Reser Stadium. The Utes’ surprisingly easy 52-7 victory made it more accurate.
“The degree of difficulty gets higher,” Whittingham said, anticipating Arizona State’s visit Saturday in a meeting of top 20 teams at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah and ASU have identical records (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) and are among four football teams tied for first place in the Pac-12 South.
The Utes eventually will need some help against USC, but they personally need to subdue the Sun Devils, after losing to them each of the past two seasons by a total of 38 points. Saturday’s reunion will provide reminders of how ASU ended Ute quarterback Tyler Huntley’s season with a broken collarbone last November and how Sun Devils freshman QB Jayden Daniels got away from them in recruiting in December.
“He’s a playmaker,” Whittingham said of Daniels, who ran 17 yards for the winning touchdown in the last minute Saturday as ASU topped Washington State 38-34.
ESPN’s Football Power Index loves the Utes and despises the Sun Devils. Utah is given an 82.6-percent chance of beating ASU. Among the teams tied for the South lead, the FPI now projects 6.8 conference wins for Utah, 6.1 wins for USC, 4.8 wins for ASU and 3.8 wins for Arizona.
• The way Utah immediately subdued Oregon State was impressive.
Even as two-touchdown underdogs, the Beavers went into their homecoming game feeling confident, especially offensively. The Utes took away any reasonable hope in a first quarter when they posted 257 yards to OSU’s 53 and led 21-0, and then linebacker Devin Lloyd’s 64-yard interception return for a touchdown further deflated the Beavers.
• Utah’s offense has become dynamic and fun to watch. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig promised a return to Utah’s traditional, run-oriented scheme. That has proved true, yet he also has mixed in some creative elements in the running game and improved quarterback Tyler Huntley’s passing ability.
Ludwig came out of Utah's bye week with some clever, opening-drive plays. The Utes gained 80 yards on six plays, overcoming a 15-yard penalty.
• ASU will present another balanced offense, with running back Eno Benjamin (another former Ute recruiting target), who gained 175 yards vs. Utah in a 38-20 win last season. The Beavers wanted to run against Utah, but couldn’t do so. Artavis Pierce had a 16-yard gain; his other nine carries netted 5 yards as Leki Fotu made two tackles for loss.
Player of the game
Tyler Huntley. Utah’s QB again was outstanding, completing 14 of 17 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception, and his game has reached the point where even an incompletion is surprising. Different receivers keep emerging, as Demari Simpkins caught four passes for 97 yards.
Huntley's final meeting with ASU will be interesting. The Sun Devils have frustrated him more than any opponent, with six interceptions in two losses.
Play of the game
Zack Moss' 91-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was remarkable. He plowed through a defender near the line of scrimmage, then ran away from players who could have caught him.
His run was the third longest in school history, behind a 93-yarder for Frank Nelson in 1947 and a 92-yarder for Steve Savoy in 2004, both against BYU.
Moss, who returned from his Sept. 20 shoulder injury, was not quite healed, according to Whittingham. Moss sat out the second half after carrying the ball five times for 121 yards and two scores. He needs 55 yards to become Utah’s career rushing leader and said he was happy to defer that goal to next Saturday, when his parents will travel from Florida.
ASU’s athletic ability has proved troublesome to Utah. The Sun Devils are 6-2 vs. the Utes in the Pac-12 era, and their defensive schemes were difficult for former offensive coordinator Troy Taylor to solve. That becomes Ludwig’s challenge this week. The offense will have to be productive, because ASU will score some points against Utah.
Of course, the same was said of Oregon State, and the Beavers took 59 minutes to do so.