SEATTLE — Facing early adversity, No. 9 Utah looked to be in trouble on the road against a Washington team that had two weeks to prepare for the visiting Utes.
But a late comeback sealed a 33-28 victory for the Utes, and their hopes of a Pac-12 Championship appearance remain in sight.
The following are three takeaways from Utah’s win on the road Saturday.
Big-time player Tyler Huntley
You’d think we’d get tired of talking about senior quarterback Tyler Huntley, but he continues to impress each week of the season. After putting up great numbers in the month of October against inferior opponents, Huntley and the Utah offense were up to their biggest test against Washington, and it didn’t look good early.
Huntley was sacked three times on as many consecutive drives and struggled to find a rhythm early against an aggressive Washington defense. But unfazed by a two-score deficit, Huntley quietly went to work and got Utah in position to claim its first lead in the fourth quarter.
Even banged up with a leg injury and sacrificing his body, Huntley scored on a 1-yard rushing touchdown to give Utah its first lead of the game. On his next series, he completed two third-down passes in tight windows to keep his team alive. His receivers made great catches to not waste the effort, but Huntley was the team general in the win.
Huntley finished the night throwing for 284 yards and one touchdown on 19-of-24 passing. Given the opportunity, he’s doing everything he can to give Utah a fighting chance to reach the Pac-12 Championship game and a likely favorable postseason destination.
Turnovers nearly doomed the Utes
Just as Utah looked to be gaining some momentum on the offensive side of the ball, the fumbles started to come. On back-to-back series, Utah’s Jordan Wilmore and Derrick Vickers fumbled balls to stall the offense. If not for the fourth-quarter effort by the offense and some locked-in defense, the turnovers could have been costly for the Utes.
Utah has been relatively clean in the turnover margin, but has struggled to hang onto the ball against tougher defenses, such as against Arizona State. Utah has found ways to claim wins despite the turnovers, but it only makes the effort that much harder.
Fortunately for the offense, the defense picked off Washington quarterback Jacob Eason twice, including a 39-yard pick-six touchdown by Jaylon Johnson, and a recovered fumble to “win” the turnover battle.
Offensive line play and play-calling
Bamidele Olaseni got his first start as a Ute, much to the excitement of the fan base. But despite his size and ability, Washington’s aggressive style of play made it difficult for him to get his footing. It’s unfair to completely grade him based on just a few snaps of play since he left the game due to injury, but it was a big-time stage to get his first reps.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham said Olaseni was needed because Simi Moala didn’t practice all week due to injury, but Moala stepped up in the game and added stability to an offensive line that looked outmatched in every aspect of the game when Olaseni went out. As a result, Utah’s play-calling looked suspect due to the limited time the offense had to get the ball off.
Utah finally settled in midway through the second quarter and allowed Huntley to do his magic.