Utah’s ‘lights out’ defense atones for the offense’s mistakes by smothering ASU

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley throws a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Arizona State on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Two things became clear on Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium: 1) Utah’s defense is capable of stepping up and saving the day, and 2) As much as Utah coach Kyle Whittingham stresses for his offense not to turn the ball over, it can and will happen, anyway.

The first covered for the second against Arizona State, in the Utes’ 21-3 victory.

Tyler Huntley threw his first interception of the year, and the Utes let loose three fumbles that were recovered by the Sun Devils. And, ultimately, none of those mistakes mattered, at least not to the ultimate outcome.

It mattered not at all where or when those turnovers occurred because, even deep in Utah territory, ASU simply could not take advantage of them. It could not move the ball with any consistency against the Utes’ D, managing just a single field goal, at the end of a drive that went for minus-four yards after one of those turnovers.

Each time, and every time, Utah’s resistance shut down the Devils.

That was made all the more meaningful because Arizona State had scored 10 or more points in 125 consecutive games, tied with Louisiana Tech for the longest streak since 1936. Not anymore.

“What a great effort by our defense,” Whittingham said, afterward. “Our defense was lights out tonight.”

Asked how much better his defense could get, he answered: “There’s not a lot to correct.”

Utah limited ASU to 136 total yards on 51 plays. The Utes hit and harassed freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels again and again, allowing him a mere 25 passing yards, gained on 4 completions in 18 attempts.

“We just went out there and executed as a defense,” said Bradlee Anae, who made regular appearances in the Arizona State backfield. His defensive line-mate Leki Fotu concurred, saying: “In games like this, we knew the defense had to step up, big time. We had to help out the offense.”

That’s exactly what happened.

“They are just a relentless defense,” Daniels said. "They are going to get after the quarterback. It’s just a stout defense that we played today.”