Seattle • Utah’s dominance of Pac-12 football opponents in October created some mystery in November, as the No. 9 Utes trailed Washington in the fourth quarter Saturday.
How would the Utes respond in a tough game, with a Rose Bowl berth or even the College Football Playoff potentially in their future?
Utah running back Zack Moss' answer gives away the ending: “That's what championship teams do,” he said, summarizing his team's surge to a 33-28 victory.
With the sun setting over Lake Washington beyond the end zone on a spectacular afternoon, the Utes came through. They needed a win over the Pac-12's defending champions to keep the pressure on USC in the South, and they delivered. An 82-yard touchdown drive sent them ahead. And then an 84-yard production gave them enough cushion to absorb the Huskies' late score, while further establishing senior Tyler Huntley as “one of the elite quarterbacks in the country,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.
USC’s 56-24 loss to No. 7 Oregon dropped the Trojans one game behind Utah, with three games remaining.
Facing a team that had beaten them four times in three seasons, including twice last year, the Utes (8-1, 5-1) responded in their first genuine, four-quarter test since a September loss to USC. The reward was the program’s first five-game winning streak in conference play as a Pac-12 member after a showing that Whittingham labeled “very satisfying” — in a much happier tone than those words may suggest.
The Utes overcame deficits of 14-3 and 21-13, using Jaylon Johnson's 39-yard interception return for a touchdown as a momentum shift. The offense missed a tying 2-point conversion attempt, but the defense got even tougher and Huntley repeatedly delivered, salvaging the day for an offense that struggled in the in first 1½ quarters and lost two third-quarter fumbles.
“We just started doing what we had to do,” Huntley said, in one of his longest statements in a postgame news conference this season.
UTAH 33, WASHINGTON 28
• No. 9 Utah produces two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and holds on for a 33-28 victory over Washington in front of nearly 70,000 fans at Husky Stadium.
• The Utes have won five straight Pac-12 games for the first time in nine seasons of membership.
• Utah has its second bye of the season before hosting UCLA on Nov. 16.
His play, as usual, said enough on a day when he completed 19 of 24 passes for 284 yards, with no interceptions. Washington quarterback Jacob Eason threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns, but was intercepted twice and lost a fumble.
Huntley's 41-yard completion to Jaylen Dixon on third and 8 led to his 1-yard touchdown run. After the Huskies' three-and-out sequence, Huntley converted two more third-down plays by finding Solomon Enis for 14 yards and Samson Nacua for 28 yards (Nacua's brother, Puka, didn't play for Washington due to an injury). Moss' 2-yard TD run made it 33-21 with 4:52 left.
The Utes could have made the ending less agonizing, but Eason converted three fourth-down plays on the next drive, ending with a 3-yard TD pass to Aaron Fuller with 1:01 remaining. Utah’s Julian Blackmon routinely corralled the Huskies’ onside-kick attempt, though, and the Utes had secured a win that created all kinds of possibilities for themselves.
Utah's seniors loved every bit of it, remembering a 10-3 loss to the Huskies in the Pac-12 title game last November, and recognizing how Washington was the only conference team they had not beaten in their careers.
The Huskies (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) were highly motivated to extend their reign over Utah, after an open date that followed a tough loss to No. 7 Oregon. Whittingham joked afterward that Washington coach Chris Petersen was “900-0” coming off a bye week in his Boise State and Washington tenures. That's a a slight exaggeration; Petersen was 18-0 with extra time to prepare and 6-1 overall vs. Whittingham. Sure enough, the Huskies' offense looked crisp and diverse at the start, in contrast to Utah's troubles.
The Utes had trouble matching up with tight end Hunter Bryant, whose six catches for 105 yards included two touchdowns as the Huskies built their 21-13 lead. Johnson’s second career pick-six, a play he attributed to thorough film study and the courage to jump the outside route, righted the Utes late in the third quarter.
And then the offense did enough to subdue the Huskies in the end, unlike what happened in Utah’s failed upset bid in Seattle in a 33-30 loss in November 2017. The Utes remembered how that game ended. This time, they were the team with 33 points, and a lot to show for it.