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Utah blows 21-0 halftime lead in 24-21 loss to Washington

Utah quarterback Jake Bentley (8) keeps the ball against Washington during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The frustration was plastered all over Jake Bentley’s face late Saturday night.

Starting his first game at quarterback for the University of Utah after 33 starts at South Carolina, Bentley played better than he did last week vs. USC in relief of the injured Cameron Rising, but by his own admittance, it still wasn’t good enough Saturday against the University of Washington.

Utah safety Zemaiah Vaughn (16) runs 73 yards as quarterback Jake Bentley (8) reacts on the sideline after Vaughn intercepted a Washington pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Bentley presided over four turnovers, two of which Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham would later call “back-breakers.” In the immediacy of the postgame aftermath, it’s easy to say the defense coughed it up at the end, but the nuanced view won’t be that simple as Utah, up three touchdowns and in full control at halftime, fell to the Huskies, 24-21, in Seattle to fall to 0-2 in this weird, truncated, COVID-fueled Pac-12 football season.

“Just not executing the way we can,” Bentley said of the Utah offense’s second-half faltering. “I don’t think anyone had a change of mindset or anything like that, it was lack of execution, so we have to go back to practice and get it right.”

The capper on Washington’s second-half comeback was a 12-play, 88-yard drive that ate up 3:55 and ended with redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan Morris hitting star tight end Cade Otton for a 16-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left to end the scoring at 24-21.

Utah’s defense, young and inexperienced, played better than it did a week ago vs. USC. It certainly played well enough to give the offense chances to hold off Washington, but nothing materialized in the second half.

By the time the fourth quarter began, Washington (3-0) had assumed control, a 21-yard touchdown pass from Morris to Otton pulling it to within four at 21-17 after trailing, 21-0, at halftime. The ensuing Utah drive was its best of the second half, but ultimately yielded nothing.

On a drive that started at its own 25-yard line, the Utes moved into the red zone when, on third-and-1 from the 19, true freshman running back Ty Jordan was stripped at the 15 by Kyler Gordon, Zion Tupuola-Fetui recovered it, and the Utes never got that close to the end zone again.

That was the third turnover of the night, while Utah now has nine turnovers in two games. Jordan, though, was otherwise outstanding again in finishing with 97 rushing yards on just 10 carries, plus another 31 yards through the air on four catches.

“I firmly believe we were going into score when Ty fumbled there in the red zone, but he did some really good things for us tonight,” Whittingham said. “He’s an electrifying player with a lot of skill and he’s going to do a lot of good things while he’s here.”

Two drives earlier, Bentley was flushed out of the pocket to his left. He looked to hit Britain Covey over the middle, but senior cornerback Elijah Molden picked the pass off at his own 49 and returned it to the Utah 27. The Huskies settled for a 26-yard Peyton Henry field goal and a 21-10 deficit on their ensuing drive.

Bentley finished 16-for-23 for 144 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Within that, he completed zero passes to wide receivers in the second half. Additionally, in two second halves this season, Utah does not have a point.

“We have to come out and continue to be our best for 60 minutes, not 30, the full 60,” Bentley said. “At the end of the day, I think that’s what it boils down to, have a 60-minute mindset to execute the whole game.”

For what it’s worth in this weird season, the Pac-12 is mandating that, to be bowl-eligible, its teams have to be .500 or better, even though the NCAA has dropped that rule for this season. At 0-2, with at least two, but possibly three games to play, Utah would have to win out to be bowl-eligible.

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