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Utah football: 'There's a lot more confidence in the locker room'

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham celebrates with the fans after the Utes defeated UCLA 41-10 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham celebrates with the fans after the Utes defeated UCLA 41-10 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.
Steve Griffin

PASADENA, Calif. — Bowl eligibility and sole possession of the Pac-12 South lead were the rewards Utah earned with Friday night’s 41-10 win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl. The Utes (6-2, 4-2) have prevailed in four straight outings to pull ahead of the pack.

“There’s a lot of confidence in the locker room,” said running back Zack Moss, who noted the coaches are exuding it and recent practices are more juiced. “It’s just flowing in the right direction.”

Moss set the tone in the latest victory, rushing for a career-high 211 yards and three touchdowns.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the junior was like a “sledgehammer between the tackles.” Others offered praise as well.

“He was really good at running speed on first contact,” said UCLA linebacker Tyree Thompson. “As you can see, he had a lot of yards,”

Bruins safety Adarius Pickett noted that Moss is “a good physical running back who reads his blocks well.”

The numbers told the story. Moss headlined a Utah ground game that netted 325 of the offense’s 470 yards.

“You take what the defense is giving you,” Whittingham said.

Although UCLA held a 7-3 lead after one quarter, the Utes scored 38 more points before game’s end to take complete command. The first touchdown came off a 7-yard pass from receiver Britain Covey to tight end Cole Fotheringham. Covey is now 3 for 3 with two scores as a passer.

“I like it because trick play passes have a high percentage,” Covey said. “So I’d prefer to keep it that way.”

The scoring strike put the Utes for good with 8:58 left in the second quarter. The four touchdowns that followed all came on the ground from short distances. Moss had three of them. Armand Shyne had one.

Utah’s other points — field goals by Matt Gay — served as bookends. A 49-yard kick with 10:01 to go extended the team’s current streak of games with 40 or more points to four.

“We got back to playing Utah football and we’ve been able to do a lot of good things,” Moss said.

Things are going well in all three phases. Besides 11 points from Gay, punter Mitch Wishnowsky and Covey had solid outings on special teams. Wishnowsky averaged 47.5 yards on two punts, pinning one inside the 10-yard line. Covey racked 66 yards on a pair of punt returns.

In addition, Connor Haller recovered a muffed punt by UCLA.

The defense is also clicking. Linebacker Cody Barton had a stellar showing with a team-high seven tackles, an interception and a pass breakup. Other standouts include defensive end Bradlee Anae (five tackles including a sack), linebacker Chase Hansen (five tackles, three pass breakups), nickel back Javelin Guidry (five tackles and a pass breakup), and cornerback Julian Blackmon (four stops, one tackle for loss).

The Utes held UCLA to 291 yards and stopped the Bruins 11 times on third down.

Barton said the offense has made the defense’s job easier. Their recent rise has taken pressure off of them. With three Pac-12 games remaining — coupled with USC’s loss to Arizona State and Colorado’s shocking setback to Oregon State on Saturday — Utah in prime position to win the division.

Barton said the Utes will be fine if they keep practicing the way they do, keep a mentality of being hungry, believe in themselves, and not get complacent thinking that they’ve made it.

There’s a new mindset that began with the win at Stanford.

“We’re playing each game like it’s our last game because to win the South, in our eyes, we’ve got to win every single game,” Barton said. “So each game is like the Super Bowl for us and we’re treating it like that.”

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham noted that the Utes dedicated the game to the late Lauren McCluskey and her family . . . Safety Marquise Blair will miss the first half of Saturday’s game at Arizona State because of a targeting penalty . . . Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley completed 13 of 21 passes for 138 yards. The Utes are 12-6 when he’s the starter.

*****

Utah (6-2, 4-2) at Arizona State (4-4, 2-3)

  • Sun Devil Stadium — Tempe, Ariz.
  • Saturday, 2 p.m.
  • TV: Pac-12 Networks
  • Radio: ESPN 700AM