DEKALB, Ill. (ABC4 Sports) – With the offense struggling to score points, the Utes defense came to the rescue.
Chase Hansen returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown with less than three minutes to left, as the Utes finally put away a pesky Northern Illinois team Saturday night, 17-6.
“We’re a pretty average football team right now,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We didn’t get much going offensively tonight and it was disappointing. We usually dominate special teams but we were very average, had a field goal blocked and turned the ball over on a punt return. But thank goodness for the defense. The defense played exceptionally well.”
Tyler Huntley completed 20 of 31 passes for 286 yards, but threw an interception and was sacked six times as the Utah offense scored just 10 points. The Huskies recorded 14 tackles for loss in the game.
Zack Moss rushed 16 times for 66 yards and a touchdown, but also fumbled, as Utah improved to 2-0 on the year headed into a Pac-12 showdown against #9 Washington.
Britain Covey had eight catches for a career-high-tying 129 yards, including a 48-yard catch and run to set up a field goal.
“We know we have a lot of stuff that we need to fix,” said Covey. “We’ve got to get better, that’s for sure. Credit to the defense of NIU, they’ve got a really good team.”
Jaylen Dixon added two catches for 50 yards, including a 41-yard catch that led to the only offensive touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run by Moss with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
Lou Groza Award winner Matt Gay missed two field goals, including his second blocked field goal of the season.
With Utah clinging to a 10-6 lead with 2:36 left, Northern Illinois quarterback Marcus Childers tried to hit a receiver on a crossing pattern, but Hansen read it perfectly and went untouched into the end zone for the clinching touchdown.
Hansen also had a fumble recovery as the Utes defense forced its first two turnovers of the season. The defense held the Huskies to 228 total yards, including just 111 passing yards.
Utah has now won 21 straight non-conference games.
The Utes next host #9 Washington (1-1) September 15th at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 8:00 p.m.
“We’re going to have a hard time winning games if we don’t get some stuff together,” Whittingham said. “I don’t feel very good. Obviously a win’s a win, but that’s not my mentality. We’ve got the Washington Huskies coming in, a top-ten team, and the degree of difficulty goes up so we need to perform much better.”