SALT LAKE CITY — Facing an early 14-0 deficit, Utah went on to score 34 unanswered points to defeat the USC Trojans 41-28 in a vital South Division matchup Saturday night.
Junior quarterback Tyler Huntley only completed five of his first 10 passes, but then found a rhythm and completed his next nine consecutive passes to end the half on a high note.
Huntley was forced to brush off several sacks to avoid big losses in the game. In one such instance, Huntley brushed off two defenders in the backfield to roll out and hit freshman Brant Kuithe in stride for a 27-yard gain. The big gain set up a 3-yard rushing touchdown by Huntley.
The junior quarterback finished the game throwing for 341 yards and four touchdown on 22-of-29 passing. He added 33 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown in the blowout win over the Trojans.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham said Huntley has improved in "everything" since the beginning of the season and has managed a "very balanced offense."
"He's running the ball exceptionally well. His ability to escape speaks to his athleticism," Whittingham said. "Going through his pass protections and making great decisions in the zone read. He's taking care of the football."
After spotting the USC Trojans a quick 14 points in the first quarter, Utah went on a 20-0 run in the first half to claim the lead. Utah would go on to add two more touchdowns in the second half before the Trojans found the end zone after a blocked Mitch Wishnowsky punt.
Utah found the end zone again late in the game to give the Utes its third-consecutive game where the offense has scored more than 40 points. Whittingham spoke of the victory that helped the Utes stay alive in the South Division title race.
"It's good to beat them and stay in the race," Whittingham said. "We all know our backs are against the wall. ... It's exciting. That's Pac-12 football at its finest."
The first Trojans touchdown came on 34-yard jump-ball pass by freshman quarterback JT Daniels, who brushed off a near sack to complete the catch over two Utah defenders.
Utah then gifted the Trojans an easy second touchdown on a scoop-and-score run by USC’s Jay Tufele after a Huntley fumble. Huntley tried to avoid the sack, but was stripped of the ball and the former Bingham High School defensive tackle scooped it up for the score.
The Trojans, though, would be held to only 99 yards of total offense in the first half on an impressive defensive effort by the Utes. USC stumbled to five three-and-out series and were 0 of 7 on third downs in the first half. The Trojans went on to be 0-of-10 in the game on third downs.
Additionally, the Trojans missed a 39-yard field goal attempt just before the end of the first half, adding to the misery of one of its best offensive series where the Trojans marched down to the Utah 13-yard line. The Trojans again ended a promising series in the third quarter with an interception in the red zone to Jaylon Johnson as Daniels was pressured by linebacker Chase Hansen.
"It was, obviously, not our best night," USC coach Clay Helton said after the game. "All the credit goes to Utah. I thought they put a good plan together and played better than us. We made mistakes on both sides of the ball."
Utah will next travel to Los Angeles next week to take on the UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl.