SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah has made a living out of punishing other teams with aggressive defense. Now it looks like those opponents have equal reasons to fear the Utes on offense.
Tyler Huntley threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-29 passing to lead Utah to a 41-28 victory over Southern Cal on Saturday night.
Huntley matched a career-high in passing yards to help the Utes beat the Trojans for the third straight time at home. Zack Moss added 136 yards rushing on 25 carries.
Their production propelled Utah to 541 total yards on offense. The Utes averaged 6.7 yards per play and generally had no trouble putting USC’s defense on its heels for four quarters. It helped Utah score 34 consecutive points to rally from an early 14-point deficit.
“We executed,” Huntley said. “That’s what happens when you execute.”
It’s not even a question for Utah now. The Utes (5-2, 3-2 Pac-12) have won three straight overall and moved into a first-place tie with USC in the Pac-12 South. They have averaged 41 points and 485.6 yards per game over those contests.
It marks the first time since 2010 that Utah has scored 40-plus points in three straight games. Much of it is due to Huntley and his precision in running the offense. The junior hit receivers all over the field and ran the zone read to near perfection in the second and third quarters.
Huntley completed 75.9 percent of his passes. This is the third straight game where he has had a completion rate of 70 percent or better.
“Tyler did a great job of running the offense again,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s really settled into a rhythm and he’s playing with a great deal of confidence.”
JT Daniels was 6-of-16 passing for 89 yards and a score with two interceptions for USC. Matt Fink, who played the entire fourth quarter in place of the freshman, finished with 43 yards and a touchdown on 6-of-7 passing.
Daniels stayed on the sidelines after suffering a head injury.
The Trojans (4-3, 3-2 Pac-12) generated just 205 total yards and averaged 3.8 yards per play. They went just 3-of-14 on third down overall and 0-of-10 through the first three quarters.
“What I saw is we put a lot of stress on our defense with all those three-and-outs,” USC coach Clay Helton said. “Early we get up 14-0, and it’s exactly where we wanted to be. Then we made some mistakes that allowed Utah to get back in it and get back in their game, which is being able to run it and use play action rather than being a drop back pass team.”
USC sprinted to that 14-0 lead behind a pair of big plays.
Michael Pittman’s 34-yard catch provided the first touchdown. Daniels narrowly eluded a sack and heaved the ball toward the goal line. It slipped through the hands of Utah safety Marquiese Blair and Pittman corralled the ball in the end zone.
Then, the Trojans made it a two-touchdown lead when John Houston forced a fumble and Jay Tufele scooped up the ball and rumbled 48 yards for the score.
“I just reacted and picked it up and took it to the house,” Tufele said. “I was just doing my job.”
Britain Covey stopped the bleeding for the Utes. He returned the kickoff 38 yards and followed up by taking a screen pass 46 yards to narrow USC’s lead to 14-7.
Utah took its first lead on a 3-yard run from Huntley in the second quarter. The Utes put the Trojans away after the junior threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Solomon Enis and an 11-yard strike to Demari Simpkins to extend the Utes’ lead to 34-14 in the third quarter.
“That’s the one thing that you can’t teach is playmaking ability and he has that,” Covey said.
USC went three-and-out on six of its first 12 drives and committed turnovers on two other drives in that stretch.
USC: Aside from capitalizing on a broken play here and there, USC had almost no success moving the chains against Utah’s stout defense. Daniels was largely ineffective in the passing game and the Trojan running backs gained little ground against the Pac-12’s top defense.
Utah: There’s no question now that Utah’s offense is legit. For the third straight game, the Utes posted at least 40 points. Huntley is growing more comfortable in the pocket and his passing rallied Utah on a night where the running game got off to a rough start.
SHUTTING DOWN THE RUN
Utah’s rushing defense isn’t likely to give up that spot atop the Pac-12 leader board any time soon. The Utes held USC to just 73 yards rushing. It is the fifth time this season where Utah held an opponent under 100 yards on the ground.
The Utes ranked second nationally in run defense coming into the game, allowing just 74.8 yards per game. It helped them rank first in the Pac-12 in total defense, scoring defense, red zone defense, and opponent third-down conversion percentage.
“We don’t really have a weakness,” Whittingham said. “You can’t say (any) position or position group is vulnerable. It’s a very talented group.”
One bright spot for USC in the loss to Utah is that the Trojans did a decent job of pressuring Huntley. The Trojans tallied five sacks — all in the first half — for a total loss of 27 yards. Those five sacks equaled a season-high set against UNLV in the season opener. USC has totaled nine sacks overall in the last two weeks.
USC hosts Arizona State on Saturday.
Utah travels to UCLA on Friday
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