More of the usual, crazy stuff happened to Utah’s football team against Arizona State, as four turnovers and multiple injuries conspired to make the Utes feel uncomfortable for a long time in the rain Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
No. 13 Utah dominated ASU statistically, yet the No. 17 Sun Devils managed to stay close until late in the fourth quarter, as they always do. That's exactly why Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was worried, right until the moment when Zack Moss broke free for a clinching touchdown on a 32-yard run that gave him the school's career rushing record.
That sprint down the left sideline created a memorable moment for Moss, and he rewarded a Utah defense that stymied the Sun Devils in a 21-3 victory. The Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) are tied for the Pac-12 South lead with the winner of Saturday's late game between USC and Arizona.
Enough had gone wrong to make Whittingham wonder what could happen next. The Utes lost quarterback Tyler Huntley, receiver Bryan Thompson and offensive tackle Darrin Paulo to injury and committed four turnovers — one more than their total through six games.
ASU had not lost a Pac-12 game by more than seven points in coach Herm Edwards' two seasons. While being convincingly outplayed, the Sun Devils remained in the game, as always. “We almost played right into their hands,” Whittingham said, “because we were letting 'em hang around.”
Utah’s defense continually responded, though. “I can’t remember a better defensive effort — certainly, not as of late,” said Whittingham, who’s in his 26th season as a Utah staff member.
The numbers were staggering. ASU (5-2, 2-2) posted 136 total yards, as freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels completed 4 of 18 passes for 25 yards and ran for 8 net yards, thanks partly to Bradlee Anae’s three sacks for Utah. ASU’s only points came on a field goal after a Utah fumble at the 18-yard line.
“They hit us in the mouth and they beat us up,” Edwards said. "Credit to them.”
If not for Oregon State’s last-minute touchdown last weekend, Utah’s defense would have gone 11 quarters without allowing a touchdown. “We knew the defense had to step up big-time — especially from the results last year, what [ASU] did to us,” Ute tackle Leki Fotu said. “So we knew we had to help out the offense.”
The offense needed some assistance. That group blew two scoring chances with fumbles by Moss and Demari Simpkins after pass receptions in the first quarter, and then put the defense in bad spots with Huntley's lost fumble and his first interception of the season (after 148 attempts) on consecutive possessions in the third quarter.
As it turned out, two second-quarter touchdowns were more than sufficient to break ASU's curse against the Utes. The Sun Devils had intercepted Huntley four times in October 2017 in a 30-10 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium and ended his season last November with a broken collarbone in ASU's 38-20 win.
Huntley was unable to finish Saturday's game, being replaced early in the fourth quarter with a leg injury that originally occurred in the second quarter. He initially responded by “begging to go back in,” by Whittingham's account, on Utah's second TD drive. Huntley immediately delivered a 16-yard completion to Derrick Vickers on a fourth-and-8 play, besides absorbing a roughing-the-passer penalty that moved the ball to the 6-yard line. Moss, also temporarily sidelined during that drive, scored three plays later.
ASU's three major penalties helped Utah sustain that scoring bid. The Sun Devils were the Pac-12's least-penalized team prior to Saturday, when they were flagged 12 times for 122 yards. Utah, the league's most-penalized team, had five for 45 yards.
The Utes posted 235 total yards to ASU’s 42 in the first half. Yet that translated only to a 14-0 lead, and it was still 14-3 midway through the fourth quarter. That’s when Utah’s Bronson Boyd recovered ASU’s fumble on a punt return. On the next play, Moss ran 32 yards – into the end zone and into the record book — and the Utes subdued ASU, finally.