SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The Utes football team is sitting pretty in the driver’s seat in the race for the Pac-12 South title.
Utah Quarterback Tyler Huntley threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns, while running for 33 more yards and another score, as the Utes erased an early 14-0 deficit to score 34 unanswered points on their way to a 41-28 win over USC.
“Proud of our guys,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Great effort. Players and assistant coaches did a great job preparing for this game and working hard all week long. We came out and handled adversity getting down 14-0 early in the game. We didn’t flinch. I think we had 34 unanswered points. Physical performance by our guys.”
Huntley matched a career-high in passing yards to help the Utes beat the Trojans for the third straight time at home. Zack Moss added 136 yards on 25 carries. Utah (5-2, 3-2 Pac-12) has won three straight overall, scoring 40-plus points in each victory, and moved into a first-place tie with USC in the Pac-12 South.
“No matter who we play, we have to go out and execute,” Huntley said. “That shows we tried to execute on every play that was presented to us. We just took one play at a time.”
“It’s nice to control your own destiny,” said wide receiver Britain Covey, who had 79 yards and a touchdown catch. You don’t have to depend on anybody else to lose or win. We’re in the drivers seat basically, so it’s a good feeling.”
Utah outgained the Trojans 541-205, and did not allow USC to convert a third down until the fourth quarter.
The Utes got off to a disastrous start, as JT Daniels threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Michael Pittman to give the Trojans a 7-0 lead. Then Huntley fumbled the ball on a sack, which was picked up for former Bingham High star Jay Tufele, who rumbled 48 yards for the touchdown to give USC a 14-0 lead.
But it was all Utah after that.
The offense got rolling on its first scoring drive as Covey hooked up with Huntley on a 46-yard receiving touchdown, cutting the USC lead to 14-7 with 5:05 on the clock in the first.
The Utes continued to put points on the board after Chase Hansen came up with a huge interception to give the Utah significant field advantage. Utah couldn’t get it in the end zone, but Gay was able to convert on a 33-yard field goal to make it a four-point game to start the second quarter.
Utah took the lead with 7:27 to go in the second quarter after a strong 67-yard drive down field, ending with a three-yard rushing touchdown by Huntley. Huntley’s fourth rushing touchdown of the season put the Utes up 17-14 after a 27-yard catch by Kuithe put the Utes on the USC five-yard-line.
Despite the slow start on both sides of the ball, the Utes 20 unanswered points ending with Gay’s 30-yard field goal gave Utah a 20-14 lead heading into halftime. The Utah defense held USC to just 99 total yards on offensive in the first half, including only 11 yards on the ground.
“I feel like one thing Coach Whitt always preaches is adversity,” Hansen said. “You’re always going to have adversity, that’s just part of the game. That doesn’t change anything we do. Sometimes stuff happens within the course of a game. You just bounce back and keep playing our football. Our confidence never left.”
The Utah offense continued to control the game, opening the third quarter with its third touchdown of the game. The 75-yard scoring drive ended with a 27-yard passing touchdown to Solomon Enis, giving the freshman his first collegiate touchdown and the Utes a 27-14 advantage with 12:36 on the clock.
Huntley propelled the Utes to their next scoring drive as he found Demari Simpkins in double coverage in the end zone, threading the defenders for an 11-yard passing touchdown. The tremendous catch ended a balanced 85-yard drive that took 6:30 off the clock to put the Utes up 34-14 with 3:28 left to play in the third.
Heading into the final two minutes of the third quarter, the Utes fumbled the ball on a punt return following a three-and-out, giving USC the ball back on the Utah 14-yard-line. With the Trojans approaching the end zone, Jaylon Johnson came up with Utah’s second takeaway of the game with an interception on the one-yard-line to keep the score at 34-14 heading into the fourth.
The Trojans were able to jump back in the scoring column to start the fourth quarter, scoring on a three-yard pass. The scoring drive was set up by a blocked Utah punt that USC was able to recover on the Utah nine-yard-line, cutting the lead to 34-21 with 11:34 left in the game.
Jake Jackson extended Utah’s lead to 41-21 with 8:55 on the clock, catching an 11-yard pass for his first career touchdown. It ended a five-play, 75-yard drive to take 2:39 off the clock in the fourth quarter.
USC scored with 3:05 remaining in the game, punching in a 12-yard rushing touchdown to make it 41-28. The 75-yard drive burned 5:50 off the game clock with Utah recovering an onside kick at the USC 48-yard-line to start their final offensive drive of the game.
After Moss drove the Utes to the USC 19-yard-line, Utah was able to run out the clock on downs, claiming its third straight win with 40-plus points.
“This is what we worked for, working all this time and in in the summer,” Moss said. “We put ourselves in a great predicament and we’re not done.”
Utah returns to action on Oct. 26 when they travel to UCLA for a Friday night matchup.