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No. 9 Utes overcome sluggish start to defeat Washington, 33-28

Utah improves to 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the Pac-12

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Utah Utes defensive tackle Leki Fotu (99) and the Utes sing the fight song in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Utah won 33-28.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SEATTLE — It was nearly something to forget. However, by the time it was over, the ninth-ranked Utah Utes kicked off what they hope is a November to remember with a 33-28 come-from-behind victory over Washington at Husky Stadium. 

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called it a great college football game. The Utes rallied from an 11-point deficit, overcame a pair of fumbles, and persevered despite a slow first quarter that netted just 34 yards and only one first down.

“It was a gut check for our guys. They hung in there and never quit — kept fighting and found a way to win. I couldn’t be more proud of a group of players.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

“I’m assuming everyone got their money’s worth in this one,” Whittingham said. “I’m proud of our guys, how they hung in there. Didn’t start the game off so well. Didn’t start off well at all. It was a little sluggish early on. It took some time to get the control at the line of scrimmage, finally got the control at the line of scrimmage.”

Whittingham reeled off other factors in Utah’s climb to 8-1 overall and 5-1 in Pac-12 play. The Utes recorded three takeaways, including a pick-6 by cornerback Jaylon Johnson, and held the Huskies to 53 yards rushing on 22 attempts.

“It was a gut check for our guys. They hung in there and never quit — kept fighting and found a way to win,” Whittingham said. “I couldn’t be more proud of a group of players.”

The win snapped a four-game skid the Utes had against Washington, including a 10-3 setback in the 2018 Pac-12 Championship Game. The breakthrough left Whittingham and the Utes with great satisfaction.

“It’s up there for me,” said Whittingham, when asked where the victory ranks. He noted the circumstances of playing the Huskies in Seattle after the defending champions had a bye week to prepare.

Washington came out strong by scoring touchdowns on two of their first three possessions. The scores came on throws from Jacob Eason to Jordan Chin (11 yards) and Hunter Bryant (34 yards). Utah, meanwhile, opened the game with three punts in four drives. The lone exception, which followed a fumble recovery by Mika Tafua, resulted in a 31-yard field goal by Jadon Redding.

Trailing 14-3 early in the second quarter, the Utes climbed back into contention before the half was complete. A 9-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Huntley to Zack Moss with less than three minutes to go was followed by a 32-yard kick by Redding as time expired.

Washington held a 14-13 advantage at the break and added to it with 8:15 remaining in the third quarter on a 40-yard scoring strike from Eason to Bryant. Utah, meanwhile, began the second half with a punt and two lost fumbles.

That’s when the tables turned. The Utes seized control of the game when Johnson returned an interception 39 yards for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, they capped a pair of lengthy scoring drives with scores. A 1-yard TD run by Huntley finished off a possession that covered 82 yards on nine plays and took 5:18 off the clock. The game-winning score came on a 2-yard run from Moss. It ended a march covering 84 yards, 11 plays and 5:22 to complete.

Washington countered with a late 3-yard scoring strike from Eason to Aaron Fuller before Utah safety Julian Blackmon recovered an on-sides kick to seal the deal. Blackmon intercepted a pass earlier in the half to thwart another threat by the Huskies.

“We just did what we had to do,” Huntley said. “We knew we were slacking in the first half. The defense kept us in the game and we just started doing what we have to do.”

Utah finished with 399 yards of total offense and 19 first downs. Washington ended with 369 and 23.

Huntley wound up completing 19-of-24 passes for 284 yards. Moss topped the Utes with 100 yards rushing and five receptions. Terrell Burgess led the defense with 10 tackles.

Utah has a bye this week.  

“I think it comes at a great time,” Whittingham said.

The Utes close out the season with home games against UCLA (Nov. 16) and Colorado (Nov. 30), plus a road trip to Arizona (Nov. 23).

Before the trip to Washington, Whittingham downplayed the challenges associated with games played in November. 

“We don’t pay attention to what month it is,” he said. “It’s all the same to us as far as our preparation.” 

Utah is 17-18 in games played in November since joining the Pac-12. The Utes have had only one winning record in the month (a 3-1 mark in 2011) as members of the conference.