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SEATTLE — It took all three phases of the game Saturday, but No. 9 Utah escaped Seattle with a 33-28 win over the Washington Huskies.
Down eight late in the third quarter, Utah (8-1, 5-1) cornerback Jaylon Johnson picked off Washington (5-4, 2-4) quarterback Jacob Eason and returned it 39 yards for a score to make it a 2-point game. The turnover, which was Washington’s third of the day, turned the tide for the Utes, who went on to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
“I'd say that may have been the play the game,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.
“It was a gut check for our guys,” he added. “They hung in there, never quit, kept fighting and found a way to win. I couldn't be more proud of a group of players.”
Washington started off the game aggressive and punched Utah in the mouth to take an early two-score lead, but Utah senior quarterback Tyler Huntley stayed composed throughout the game to lead his team to victory. Huntley capped off an 82-yard drive early in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard rushing touchdown of his own to give the Utes their first lead of the game.
The Florida native wasn’t done there.
After a Utah defensive stop, Huntley orchestrated another drive that was capped off with a 2-yard rushing touchdown by running back Zack Moss. Huntley completed two key third-down conversions on the drive, including a 14-yard toss to Solomon Enis and a 28-yard pass to a narrowly open Samson Nacua to get Utah into scoring position.
Huntley finished the day throwing for 284 yards and one touchdown on 19-of-24 passing as the team’s undisputed leader of the game.
“He means so much to this football team. He's one of the elite quarterbacks in the country — I'll stand by that,” Whittingham said. “He put some balls in some spots that were incredible, and proud of Tyler.”
Washington was unfazed by the 12-point deficit, though, and Eason marched the Huskies down the field to score on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Fuller. But Washington failed an onside kick attempt after Utah senior Julian Blackmon jumped on the ball to seal the victory for the Utes.
Utah appeared outmatched in the first quarter as Washington came out as the aggressor after a bye week and two weeks to prepare for the Utes. Eason got the Huskies on the board first on their first drive of the game with an 11-yard toss to receiver Jordan Chin in the back of the end zone to cap off a 13-play, 70-yard drive.
The Huskies followed up the score with a touchdown in the second quarter after Blackmon tripped in coverage to leave tight end Hunter Bryant wide open for a 34-yard score. On the other side of the ball, Washington’s defense pushed around a Utah offensive line that included Bamidele Olaseni, who replaced an injured Simi Moala, for his first action of the season.
Huntley was sacked three times in Utah’s first few drives and had little time to get off a pass early on. But a shuffling of the offensive line after Olaseni left with an injury gave Utah the time it needed to settle into its offense and close the gap on Washington. Utah had several momentum-changing drives, but they were cut short due to fumbles on back-to-back drives, including one from Jordan Wilmore and then Derrick Vickers on the ensuing drive.
The Utes managed their first score early in the second quarter after defensive tackle John Penisini forced a fumble by Eason inside Washington’s 20-yard line. Defensive end Mika Tafua was quick to jump on the ball and gave Utah prime position. The Utes ended the drive with a made 31-yard field goal by placekicker Jadon Redding.
Utah later found the end zone in the second quarter on Moss' 9-yard reception to cut the Huskies' lead to four. Utah’s defense held firm late in the half to give the Utes the ball back with just over a minute left to play. Redding finished the drive with a made 32-yard field goal.
“I don't think we came out sleepwalking but we definitely got off to a slow start in a very hostile environment, and you definitely don't want to do that,” Moss said. “No matter their record, they're still the Pac-12 reigning champs. The guys just focused in and locked in a lot more and just got more physical as the game went on.”
The Utes enter their second bye week of the season, which Whittingham said after the game came at “a great time” as Utah looks to heal from some injuries, including a banged-up Huntley. Utah returns to action on Nov. 16 at Rice-Eccles Stadium as the Utes welcome in the visiting UCLA Bruins.