Utah’s offensive line reasserts itself in the second half vs. Washington

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley celebrates with fans after after an NCAA college football game against Washington, on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, in Seattle. Utah won 33-28. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Seattle • The anticipated debut of Utah tackle Bamidele Olaseni hardly could be judged a success, but everything came together for the Utes’ offensive line in the last 2½ quarters Saturday.

The No. 9 Utes would have produced 400 total yards, if not for quarterback Tyler Huntley's kneeling to kill the clock in a 33-28 victory at Husky Stadium. Utah's point total was aided by a defensive touchdown, but the offense did its part with two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, after Washington defense appeared dominant in the game's early stages.

Utah’s line stabilized itself after allowing four sacks in the first half, giving Huntley better protection and creating enough holes for running back Zack Moss to post 100 net yards on 27 carries — even while losing 14 yards. The Huskies were credited with nine tackles for loss against a Ute line that had allowed only seven sacks in the first eight games, tying for sixth in the country in that category.

[Read also: Gordon Monson: Witness here the wonderful Education of Tyler Huntley]

Olaseni left the field during a drive in the first quarter, due to injury. Utah reverted to its standard alignment with Nick Ford at guard and Simi Moala at tackle, after Moala was unable to practice all week, coach Kyle Whittingham said. The linemen helped the Utes gain 365 yards in the last three quarters.

“Those guys are gritty, man,” Moss said. “I never worried about 'em. They believe they're the best in the [Pac-12] … and they weren't going to let anyone shut them [down] for four quarters.”

Olaseni's injury forced line coach Jim Harding to “shuffle the deck a little bit,” Whittingham said, and the necessary adjustments seemed to help. Olaseni was beaten for a sack on Utah's second possession, and he left the field a few plays later in apparent pain.

Utah learned in late September that Olaseni, a London native and highly recruited player from Garden City (Kan.) Community College, had one year of Division I eligibility. The coaches' strategy is to use him in four games this season, with NCAA rules allowing him to redshirt and then play the full 2020 season. Whittingham wanted him to play in meaningful situations, maximizing that four-game window.

That's how highly the coaches think of Olaseni. In early October, Whittingham said, “He'll be a big-time player, eventually.”

That didn’t become evident Saturday, and we’ll see how his season evolves from here. Thanks to Moala’s return, the Utes appear to be fine without him.