SALT LAKE CITY — In the week leading up to Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against Washington, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes “will be ready” when they face the 10th-ranked Huskies.
Turns out, the message didn’t get through. Washington lit up Utah’s annual “blackout game” with a 21-7 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“Well, that didn’t go well,” Whittingham said. “Give Washington credit. That is a good team and is well coached.”
The Huskies (2-1, 1-0), who topped the Pac-12’s preseason media poll, never trailed in defeating the Utes (2-1, 0-1) for the 11th time in 12 all-time meetings.
Washington recorded three takeaways (two fumbles and an interception) on defense, and running back Myles Gaskin led the offense with 143 yards rushing.
“We just had a lot of drive killers,” said quarterback Tyler Huntley. “I give credit to Washington’s defense. They played hard all four quarters.”
Utah wound up with fewer yards (327-261) and first downs (18-13). The Utes were also stymied by costly penalties and dropped passes. The latter, Whittingham noted, is the team’s biggest issue right now.
“Those are drive killers. I thought Tyler actually threw the ball pretty good tonight,” he said. “Some throws were not ideal, but he threw the ball better than his numbers would indicate.”
Huntley completed 20 of 38 passes for 138 yards with one interception.
“We need to be locked in more,” said wide receiver Britain Covey. “Quit taking our eyes off the ball, things you learn in kindergarten.”
Washington took a 7-0 lead on its first possession. The Huskies scored on a 38-yard run by Gaskin, who ran down the right sideline and dove to put the ball inside the pylon. Peyton Henry followed with the PAT.
After punting twice, Utah managed to even the score late in the opening quarter on a 4-yard touchdown run by Zack Moss and an extra point kick by Matt Gay. The Utes marched 80 yards on 12 plays while taking 5:19 off the clock. Quarterback Tyler Huntley kept the drive alive with a third-down run that netted 28 yards. It put the ball on the Washington 11.
The first quarter ended with a near standstill in total offense. The Huskies had 91 yards and the Utes finished with 88.
There was a quick separation, however, when play resumed. The Huskies took a 14-7 advantage with 11:49 left in the half. Quarterback Jake Browning’s 1-yard TD run finished off an eight-play drive that covered 75 yards.
Although no other points were scored in the second quarter, there was noteworthy activity. With 4:12 remaining, Utah safety Marquise Blair was ejected for targeting following a hit on Gaskin. The penalty and a 41-yard pass from Browning to Aaron Fuller later in the drive put Washington on the Utah 16.
The Utes weathered the storm, though, by forcing Browning into an intentional grounding penalty. Then came an incompletion and a pass play that lost 12 yards. The Huskies wound up punting after facing fourth-and-38 from the 44-yard line.
Before the half was complete, Utah moved into Washington territory. Hopes of cashing in, however, were thwarted when Huntley was intercepted by cornerback Jordan Miller on the 11-yard line with nine seconds to go.
Turnovers continued to plague the Utes in the third quarter, as did another targeting penalty. They lost two fumbles and defensive tackle Leki Fotu to ejection as Washington extended its lead to 21-7.
Utah’s first miscue came on a reception by Covey. Safety Jojo McIntosh forced the fumble and safety Taylor Rapp recovered it for Washington near midfield. The Huskies wound up scoring on the ensuing possession when Browning and former Provo High receiver Ty Jones teamed on a six-yard scoring strike.
Earlier in the drive, there was controversy when Browning was picked off by Barton. The apparent takeaway was taken away, however, when Fotu was penalized for a hit on Browning that was deemed targeting.
When Utah got the ball back after the Washington score, the Utes lost another fumble when receiver Bronson Boyd was hit by Miller and Rapp scooped up his second recovery.
“I’m proud of our defense for stepping up when they need to a couple of different times,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen.
An exchange of punts followed before Utah forced its first turnover. Defensive tackle Pita Tonga intercepted Browning, giving the Utes possession on the Washington 11. He was headed for the end zone but lost his grip on the ball and it went out of bounds. Two dropped passes eventually led to a loss on downs, however, leaving them two yards shy of the goal line.
Utah had another opportunity after three plays and a 21-yard punt by the Huskies. As was the case earlier, the Utes wound up with a loss on downs. Two penalties (a substitution infraction and holding) proved to be a drive-killer along with two incompletions.
The latter gave Washington the ball back with 6:04 remaining. Utah eventually added a third loss on downs before the game was over.
“I think we need to re-evaluate a lot,” Covey said. “We got to fix some things.”
Utah has its only bye of the season next week.
“It doesn’t matter when it comes,” Whittingham said. “We always try to maximize it. Whenever it comes, we try to make that a positive.”
The Utes return to action Saturday, Sept. 29, at Washington State.