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Utes move into the AP top 10 following 3-0 nonconference slate

Utah is No. 10 entering Pac-12 opener at USC.

Utah defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) runs out of bounds after intercepting Northern Illinois quarterback Ross Bowers (12) during second-half action in the Utah-Northern Illinois football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.
Utah defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) runs out of bounds after intercepting Northern Illinois quarterback Ross Bowers (12) during second-half action in the Utah-Northern Illinois football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A day after completing nonconference play with a 31-0 victory over Idaho State, the Utah Utes moved into the top 10 of the Associated Press poll for the first time since 2015. They enter this Friday’s Pac-12 opener at USC ranked 10th with a 3-0 record.

“We feel good as a team,” said quarterback Tyler Huntley. “But we can be better.”

Huntley, who completed 15 of 19 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns against Idaho State, felt the Utes left some points on the field.

“I feel like we can improve in that area,” he said.

The Utes, however, are still scoring at respectable clip — averaging 32 points over victories against BYU (30-12), Northern Illinois (35-17) and the Bengals. They’re seeking their first win at USC since 1916 with an offense paced by seniors Huntley (602 yards passing) and running back Zack Moss (373 yards rushing).

The Utes still have turned the ball over just once and have yet to give up a sack.

“I think we’re in a really good spot. I think we handled business the way we wanted to in these first three games,” said Moss, who is now the second-leading rusher (3,024 yards, trailing only Eddie Johnson’s 3,219) in team history. “And going into next week, I think it’s going to be pretty good.”

Moss added that the team has a “very, very big goal” and they’re not going to let anyone get in the way of that. Same goes for history as the Utes pursue high expectations. They topped the Pac-12’s preseason media poll.

“We’re going to go out there and do what we’ve got to do to get that win and then just erase that 102 years,” Moss said of this week’s game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Besides the ground game, Utah’s passing attack is also making strides. On Saturday, Huntley had a career-high 82-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Thompson. They also teamed on a 23-yard scoring strike. The other TD toss was a 60-yarder from Huntley to Brant Kuithe.

“I don’t think teams can just focus on the run, especially if we stretch the field,” Thompson said. “We have a great running back, we have a great quarterback, too, who can throw the ball down the field. So I think it means a lot for the team.”

Utah had nine players catch passes in the Idaho State win. Several Utes gained positive yardage on the ground.

Moss noted that the offense under Andy Ludwig hasn’t showed much of its hand, thus far. Things have been kept fairly basic.

“We still have a few more things that we want to go ahead and throw out there,” Moss said.

Utah’s defense pitched a shutout, holding Idaho State to 80 yards passing and only 36 yards rushing in the process.

“If they don’t score, they don’t win,” said linebacker Devin Lloyd, who called it a solid all-around performance by the defense. The sophomore set the tone with a team-high nine tackles.

The Utes wanted more takeaways, garnering just one — an interception by JaTravis Broughton.

On the special teams front, freshman kicker Jadon Redding attempted and made his first career field goal — a 35-yarder in the first quarter.

“Now it’s time to move on. We’ve got a short turnaround, a Friday night game down in the Coliseum,” Whittingham said of the focus to USC. “We’ve got to get going right away. So that’s where we’re at.”

Utah’s remaining nine games are conference contests. The schedule includes home dates with Washington State, Arizona State, California, UCLA and Colorado, as well as road trips to USC, Oregon State, Washington and Arizona.

*****

No. 10 Utah (3-0) at USC (2-1)

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Friday, 7 p.m. (MT)

TV: FS1

Radio: ESPN 700AM