No. 8 Utes win their sixth straight game, crushing UCLA 49-3

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) passes the ball against UCLA in the first half during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah’s uniform design may have come from the 1960s, but the Utes’ performance against UCLA was right out of 2019.

The No. 8 Utes overwhelmed another Pac-12 opponent that had appeared mildly dangerous, asserting themselves in a 49-3 rout Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss and tight end Brant Kuithe highlighted the offensive showing. Ute safety Julian Blackmon was the star of a defense that created five takeaways, with one leading to a touchdown — exceeding the program’s “four and a score” goal for any game.

Huntley’s 335-yard passing night came via only 14 completions in 18 attempts, producing touchdowns of 69 yards to Kuithe and 83 yards to Samson Nacua in the second half. Utah topped 500 yards for the fourth game this season.

Asked to quantify his degree of belief in Utah’s playmakers, Huntley said, “More confidence than I’ve got in myself — and I’ve got a lot of confidence.”

The Utes celebrated college football’s 150-year anniversary season by wearing silver pants and jerseys from the program’s past. Everything they did Saturday further improved their present and future.

The Bruins (4-6, 4-3 Pac-12) had done enough lately to make the Utes take them seriously — much like Oregon State, Arizona State and California in recent weeks. That apparently was a mistake. So was receiver Ethan Fernea’s declaration that the Bruins wanted to show they were the tougher team.

“We figured out who was the more physical team, this game,” said Ute defensive end Bradlee Anae, who recorded two sacks.

The Utes watched the video of Fernea’s remarks before walking to the stadium. “I don’t know how much it bothered them, or amused them,” coach Kyle Whittingham said, wryly clarifying that the team “didn’t make a big deal of it, as far as you know.”

UCLA did march to the Utah 3-yard line on its opening possession, but two sacks pushed back the Bruins and they settled for a field goal —their only points of the night. Utah has gone 3½ home games without allowing a touchdown.

The Bruins came to town with three straight wins and a shot at the Pac-12 South championship, but Utah took away those ambitions and left UCLA hoping only to become bowl-eligible in coach Chip Kelly’s second season. All kinds of possibilities remain in play for the Utes (9-1, 6-1), after they extended their conference winning streak to a program-record six games in the Pac-12 era. Utah is No. 7 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings, to be updated Tuesday.

With sacks subtracted, UCLA rushed for only 50 yards, slightly below Utah’s nation-leading average. Moss ran for 127 yards, giving him 955 for the season. He leads the Pac-12 by 16 yards over UCLA’s Joshua Kelley, who posted 78 yards Saturday.

The Bruins caused some degree of stress in the first half with three long drives made possible by the playmaking of quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and Kelley. But when Blackmon blitzed and forced a fumble that defensive end Mika Tafua returned for a 68-yard touchdown, Utah was in command at 21-3. Blackmon had stopped a previous drive with his team-high fourth interception of the season, in the end zone.

Utah added Moss’ second rushing touchdown of the night just before halftime, then scored again via Kuithe’s 69-yard reception on the opening drive of the third quarter and coasted in from there. Kuithe finished with a career-high five catches for 132 yards, after being targeted only once for 8 yards two weeks ago at Washington.

That’s evidence of how Ute offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig adjusts his game plan to each opponent, searching for favorable matchups. Huntley and Kuithe exploited the Bruins, who rank last in the conference in passing efficiency defense.

It all added up to another enjoyable production for the Utes, including kickoff specialist Andrew Strauch. The graduate transfer from UCLA got to kick the ball eight times against his former teammates, once to begin the game and seven more times after Utah touchdowns.