No. 18 Utah’s offense no-shows in the second half in loss to No. 5 Washington
The Utes gained just 76 total yards of offense in the second half after putting up 306 in the first two quarters
SEATTLE — Even after all of the chaos that ensued in the late third quarter and the fourth quarter, Utah still had a shot.
All looked to be lost as Michael Penix Jr. and Washington took the ball over, leading the Utes by seven points with 8:26 left in the contest at Husky Stadium in Seattle, then proceeded to bleed the clock.
Washington converted five first downs on the drive, including a key first-down rush by Dillion Johnson on fourth and 1, and marched the ball down to the Utah red zone.
Washington kicker Grady Gross trotted onto the field with 1:47 remaining in the game, needing a 32-yard field goal to wrap up the undefeated Huskies’ 10th win. Gross’ foot hit the laces, and the kick was blocked by Connor O’Toole.
Incredibly, Utah still had a chance.
Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes and the Ute offense took the ball over at their own 18 yard-line with 1:38 left, conjuring up comparisons to the game-winning drive against USC three weeks prior.
Could Barnes and the Utes lead another last-minute drive, this time to tie the game (or go for two for the win) against the No. 5 team in the country?
On a rainy afternoon in the Seattle, another heroic drive wasn’t in the cards.
Utah’s last drive of the game ended the way the other five second-half drives had, with no points on the scoreboard.
Barnes couldn’t connect with Mikey Matthews on first down, then was incomplete to Ja’Quinden Jackson on second and third down. That brought up fourth down to decide the game, and Barnes threw an interception.
Game over. Pac-12 title hopes, slim as they may have been entering the day, officially with a nail in the coffin.
Utah’s offense was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on Saturday, playing as well as it possibly could have in the first half, then not registering a single point in the second.
In an astounding first half, the Utes continued the offensive prowess shown in the 55-3 win over Arizona State last week, going blow for blow with statistically the best passing offense in the country.
After punting on its first two possessions, Utah rallied, scoring four consecutive touchdowns, matching Washington, which scored four consecutive times (three touchdowns and a field goal) after a punt to start the game.
A 41-yard pass from Barnes to Devaughn Vele set up a Jackson run for Utah’s first points of the game. On the next drive, a Barnes 12-yard run on third and 1 set Utah up in the red zone, where the Milford native connected with Miki Suguturaga for the tight end’s first touchdown of the season.
The third touchdown of the game for Utah was a catch and run from the speedy Sione Vaki, who touched the ball five times on offense after not playing a snap on that side of the ball against Arizona State.
The two-way player caught Barnes’ dump-off pass behind the line of scrimmage and did the rest himself, outrunning the Washington defense for a 53-yard score to put Utah up 21-17.
After a Dillon Johnson touchdown swung the score back in favor of the Huskies, 24-21, Utah struck right back with a 68-yard pass to Vele, who was chased down at the 7 yard line. Jackson finished the drive off with a 7-yard touchdown run, his second of the day.
Utah’s offensive was clicking as well as anyone could have ever hoped for in a tough and loud environment,
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig was dialing up the right stuff, and the players were executing it well. Barnes was comfortable and dealing (13 of 17 in the first half), and Ludwig made sure to get the ball in the hands of Utah’s playmakers — Vele, Vaki and Landen King, to name a few.
Did anyone have Barnes throwing for more yards than Heisman leader Penix Jr. through one half?
That’s what happened. Barnes threw for 238 yards, compared to Penix Jr.’s 198, and the Utes led 28-24 at halftime, looking poised for an upset that could send shockwaves through the College Football Playoff picture.
Utah’s defense tried to dial up pressure in the first half to make Penix Jr. uncomfortable, and succeeded a few times, getting in his face, but Washington’s offensive line was as advertised.
“We knew they were going to get theirs, but yeah, just not enough production from us when we’re bringing seven men and (receivers are) one-on-one. We just need to get home on more blitzes,” Utah linebacker Levani Damuni said.
In the second half, the Utes got the defensive help they were looking for.
After giving up 24 points in the first half, including a couple drives in which Washington took advantage of one-on-one matchups in man coverage with star receiver Rome Odunze, Utah’s defense allowed just one touchdown in the second half, forcing two punts and a field goal.
But Utah’s offense no-showed in the final two quarters.
“We just weren’t able to get things going offensively. We just couldn’t find that spark that we had in the first half,” Barnes said.
Out of the locker room, Utah had back-to-back three-and-outs, but its defense held Washington to just three points during the Huskies’ first two drives.
Penix Jr. to Odunze for a 33-yard score put the Huskies back on top, but the Utes responded by putting together their most promising drive of the second half thus far with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Jaylon Glover had a pair of 10-plus yard runs, Barnes had a successful quarterback keeper, and Barnes connected with Vele yet again for a 23-yard pass, with a roughing the passer penalty tacked on.
After backup quarterback Nate Johnson came in for a play — a six-yard pitch to Money Parks that was negated by a holding penalty — Barnes was back in the game with the ball on the Washington 24-yard line.
Then craziness ensued.
Barnes’ pass to tight end Dallen Bentley was off the mark, and as Bentley stuck out a hand to try to get it, he tipped it to Washington linebacker Alphonzo Tuputaia, who took it 77 yards for a pick-six.
Or so the Huskies thought.
Tuputaia actually dropped right the ball before the goal line, and Utah offensive lineman Michael Mokofisi jumped on it.
Backed up to their own 1 yard-line, Utah ran it straight ahead with Jackson. The left side of Utah’s line was blown up, leading to a safety.
In many ways, that Barnes interception, and ensuing safety, epitomized why Utah struggled so much on offense in the second half.
Winning starts up front, and the offensive line — which performed well in the first half, keeping Barnes clean and clearing the way for some key rushes — had a poor showing in the final two quarters.
Though Utah didn’t allow a sack, Barnes was pressured often in the second half and the Utes couldn’t get their run game going.
“I think it was a case of not being as dominant up front in the second half, not getting the running game going as well in the second half, but give (Washington) credit,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The tempo that worked well in the first half rarely made an appearance for Utah in the second half, and Barnes made some questionable decisions at times, going 4 for 13 with two interceptions in the second half after a stellar start.
Whittingham said that he didn’t have “any problem” with the way Ludwig called the game in the second half.
“I think that Andy did a good job. Sometimes that’s how things go and didn’t make as many plays in the second half and a lot of that is due to (Washington) elevated their play,” Whittingham said.
After the safety, the Huskies led 35-28, and while Utah would have two more drives after that, both ended without a score.
On first of the final two drives, Utah looked to have the first down on a pass from Barnes to Suguturaga, but it was called back on a controversial offensive pass interference call.
“I’ll just say the refs got their money’s worth today,” Whittingham said when asked about the call. “I think it was nine penalties close to a hundred yards (called on Utah), so whatever. I mean, I have really no comment on that.”
But even with that call, Utah had two opportunities for the first down and failed to convert — Barnes rushed for 10 yards, then was incomplete on third and 7.
It was that kind of a second half for Utah.
Whittingham said he’d have to look at the tape to know for sure, but it didn’t appear that Washington made any “wholesale changes” on defense at the halftime break.
“We just couldn’t get in sync in that second half. We just couldn’t get in a rhythm and it was completely different than the first half,” Whittingham said.
“First half, we were in a great rhythm. We were up and down the field and completing passes and making plays and we just weren’t able to be as productive in the second half.”
That was the story of the night in what Whittingham called a “tough loss” for Utah.