Saturday, December 7News That Matters

How some added motivation helped the Utah Utes overpower UCLA on both sides of the ball – Deseret News


SALT LAKE CITY — Offense, defense and lots of it. That’s how the seventh-ranked Utah Utes overpowered UCLA 49-3 Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“Outstanding performance by our guys tonight. Proud of them,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Offense, defense, both outstanding.”

The Utes (9-1, 6-1) racked up 536 yards of total offense as quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss and tight end Brant Kuithe led the way. Huntley completed 14 of 18 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns, while Moss rushed for 127 yards and two scores, and Kuithe had a team-high five receptions for 132 yards.

Defensively, Utah also racked up some impressive statistics. The Utes finished with five sacks (resulting in a loss of 58 yards), three fumble recoveries and two interceptions. They made 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage and had four pass breakups. Safety Julian Blackmon wound up with a game-high 12 tackles and defensive end Bradlee Anae had a pair of sacks.

Much of the credit, though, belongs to UCLA receiver Ethan Fernea. He provided additional motivation for the Utes earlier in the week.

“Utah’s known for being tough,” Fernea told reporters. “But I think we’re ready to go out and show that we’re the tougher team.”

It didn’t sit well with the Utes, who were determined to set the tone and get physical.

Anae said Fernea’s comment was in his ear the whole game, and Huntley noted that it ticked them off.

“We watched it on a video right before we came over to the stadium, so we knew what we wanted to do and come out here and prove today,” Moss said. “So I think we did that.”

The Utes, simply put, didn’t appreciate having their toughness questioned.

“The players were aware of that, for sure, and I don’t know how much it bothered them or amused them,” Whittingham said. “I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you, but they knew and didn’t make a huge deal of it.”

However, Whittingham added that the team responded well.

Things didn’t start off so well for Utah in defending the run. UCLA rushed for 51 yards on the game’s opening drive, helping the Bruins move as close as the 3-yard line. The Utes responded to the challenge with back-to-back sacks.

Blackmon and Terrell Burgess combined on the first one. They brought UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson to the ground for a 9-yard loss on second down. On the next play, Anae sacked Thompson-Robinson for a 13-yard loss. The Bruins wound up settling for a 43-yard field goal by J.J. Molson to take a 3-0 lead with 8:05 remaining in the first quarter.

In response to the 15-play scoring drive, the Utes countered with a 12-play touchdown march. A 2-yard run by quarterback Tyler Huntley capped a possession that featured 36 yards from Moss.

Leading 7-3, Utah thwarted an ensuing threat by UCLA when Blackmon intercepted a pass by Thompson-Robinson in the end zone early in the second quarter.

The Utes lost a fumble on the first down that followed, putting the Bruins back in scoring position on the 28-yard line. However, as was the case on the drive prior to the interception (5 yards on two rushes), they struggled trying to run the ball — netting just 9 yards on three carries before Molson was wide right on a 42-yard field goal attempt.

Utah’s offense cashed in on the defensive success with another touchdown. A 4-yard run by Moss capped a 10-play drive as the Utes extended their lead to 14-3 midway through the quarter.

It grew to 21-3 with 2:24 left in the half after Blackmon recorded another sack on Thompson-Robinson and forced a fumble. Defensive end Mika Tafua scooped up the ball and returned it 68 yards for a score.

Five plays later, UCLA was forced to punt. Utah’s offense turned to Moss and the senior responded with a 50-yard reception and 45 yards on the ground on a drive that culminated with a 38-yard TD run by the program’s career rushing leader. It came with 26 seconds remaining in the half. Moss had 116 yards on 12 carries over the first two quarters.

Utah’s defense, meanwhile, held UCLA to 62 yards rushing on 22 attempts in the opening half — allowing just 11 since the first drive.

Blackmon headlined the effort with seven tackles (five solo), 1.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble in the decisive stretch.

When play resumed, Utah went to the air. The Utes added a 69-yard scoring strike from Huntley to Kuithe early in the third to make it 35-3. Late in the quarter, Burgess recovered a fumble by Thompson-Robinson to end a bid by UCLA to cut the deficit.

The Bruins turned the ball over again with 12:52 left to play when Demetric Felton was hit by Utah defensive tackle John Penisini. Cornerback Josh Nurse recovered the fumble on the 5-yard line.

The Utes wound up scoring on an 83-yard touchdown toss from Huntley to Samson Nacua with 9:39 to go. By game’s end, they added a 27-yard touchdown run by Devonta’e Henry-Cole — set up by an interception by defensive tackle Pita Tonga.

Utah ended up with 201 yards on the ground.

“We certainly won the rushing battle and controlled both sides of the line of scrimmage,” Whittingham said.

Huntley noted that contributions were plentiful. The offense and defense both excelled and were big factors in Utah’s sixth straight win.

“All of the above,” Huntley said. “All of us did our job. We’ve got a lot that we can improve on, but we all did pretty good tonight.”

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