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Utes pounce on Wildcats early and never let up during 42-10 win

SALT LAKE CITY — Prior to taking the field Friday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that the offense was developing some confidence and establishing an identity after five games. His comments earlier in the week included a belief that there were things to build off of, not just in terms of production but also in regards to energy, juice and passion.

Continuing that mindset, Whittingham said, was going to “be a big push this week.”

When it was over, Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley said the Utes just trusted the plan.

"We executed good and that's what happens," he said.

The Utes responded in kind by shoving Arizona around early and often en route to a 42-10 win over the Wildcats. They scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions over the first two quarters to quickly take control of the game.

Arizona, meanwhile, was forced to punt, punt and punt, then turn the ball over with a loss on downs, during the decisive stretch.

"The first half we did a great job moving the football, getting the ball in the end zone," Whittingham said. "Execution was outstanding."

Utah’s opening drive featured a season-high 15 plays and covered 75 yards. The march ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Huntley to Samson Nacua, giving the Utes their first red-zone throw for a score since the Aug. 30 season opener against Weber State.

Exactly five minutes later, with 2:47 left in the first quarter, Utah doubled its lead. A 1-yard run by Zack Moss on fourth down capped an eight-play, 69-yard drive. The Utes took more than 10½ minutes off the clock while the offense built a 14-0 advantage.

Utah’s next possession ended with a punt. However, the offense got back on track the next time it got the ball. The Utes ran just three plays this time around. A 68-yard scoring strike from Huntley to Demari Simpkins, along with another PAT from Matt Gay, made it 21-0 early in the second quarter.

After forcing Arizona into a loss on downs, Utah made another trip to the goal line. A 3-yard run by Huntley on fourth-and-1 gave the Utes another touchdown with 1:56 to go in the half. They led 28-0 at the break after the Wildcats missed a 34-yard field goal in the closing seconds.

Utah had 295 yards of total offense in the first half. Arizona had just 114. Huntley completed 11 of 14 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns in the opening half, continuing the efficiency the junior showed in last week’s 40-21 win at Stanford when he was 17 of 21 passing.

Huntley showed off his skills as a receiver when play resumed. He caught a 58-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Britain Covey on the second play of the third quarter. The score came on a reverse after Huntley handed the ball off to Moss, who then gave it to Covey for the throw.

"We've talked a lot about starting fast and starting physical," Covey said. "And I think that we really have found an indentity as a team and it's obvious to see."

Gay followed theb razzle-dazzle score with the extra point as the Utes increased their lead to 35-0. Just under four minutes later, Arizona put up its first points when Josh Pollack connected on a 37-yard field goal.

Momentum continued to sway for the Wildcats when linebacker Colin Schooler intercepted Huntley on the ensuing possession and returned the pick 33 yards to the Utah 24.

Arizona, though, failed to capitalize on the takeaway — despite getting to the 5-yard line. Utah’s defense forced quarterback Rhett Rodriguez to throw an incompletion on fourth-and-1 to thwart the threat. Rodriguez, a sophomore, and freshman Jamarye Joiner stepped for highly touted starter Khalil Tate, who was limited to three yards passing and three yards rushing after aggravating a sore ankle.

Rodriguez, the son of former Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, came through with 13:23 left in the fourth quarter — bouncing back to team with Cedric Peterson on a 42-yard TD pass.

Leading 35-10, Utah has never challenged the rest of the way. For good measure, the Utes added a 22-yard touchdown run by Armand Shyne with 6:14 to go. It followed a 28-yard gain by Mitch Wishnowsky on a fake punt and a horse-collar penalty at the end of the play.

Huntley headlined the Utah offense with 201 yards passing and 64 yards rushing, while throwing a touchdown pass and adding scores as a runner and a receiver. Other standouts included Moss (game-high 68 yards rushing), Covey (six receptions) and Simpkins (game-high 68 yards receiving). The defense was led by linebacker Chase Hansen and defensive lineman Maxs Tupai, who each made nine tackles.

"It was just an overall good team win," Whittingham said. "It was like last week where all three phases were contributing."

The Utes, who have now won two straight games, improved to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in Pac-12 play with the victory. They return to action Saturday, Oct. 20 at home against USC.

"Big challenge coming up next week. We've got the Trojans coming to town," Whittingham said. "Our backs are to the wall every single week from here on out. We know that. We knew that this week. We knew it last week. So nothing new there."