SALT LAKE CITY — For 21 minutes Thursday night, the underdog barked. For the first half, its defense doggedly pursued its in-state counterpart.
In the end, Utah’s talent prevailed, especially in stifling Weber State’s inexperienced offense, and the Utes pulled away for a 41-10 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium to open the 2018 season for both football teams.
Utah outgained Weber State 587-61 for the game. A pair of late Clay Moss runs for a first down helped Weber avoid an all-time low yardage output, which is still 52 yards.
“Fast start, I thought they came out of the gates not intimidated and excited about the atmosphere,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “And then we proceeded to get our butts kicked.”
Midway through the first quarter, a blocker got in the way of Utah punt returner Britain Covey, causing a botched catch which Weber State’s Kallin Fisher recovered at the Utah 40.
Treshawn Garrett rushed 10 yards on a third down to pick up what was the game’s first first-down, and also stood as Weber State’s only first down until 5 minutes left in the third quarter.
That set up Trey Tuttle for a 42-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
On the next play from scrimmage, things got interesting.
Linebacker Landon Stice picked off an errant Tyler Huntley throw and returned it 30 yards to Utah’s 2. New signal-caller Kaden Jenks kept an option run into the end zone and, with 5:14 left in the first quarter, Weber State led 10-0.
Utah suffered from some bad timing and dropped passes in the first half, but answered by rushing for 66 yards on the next drive to set up a Huntley to Cole Fotheringham 3-yard touchdown.
Late in the first quarter, Jawian Harrison appeared to have a second interception for Weber State’s defense but it was nullified by a pass interference call. On the other side of the quarter break, however, Filipe Sitake got his hand on a Matt Gay field goal attempt to keep Weber ahead 10-7.
The Wildcats defense kept battling. Stice stood up Zack Moss at midfield on a third and short and the Wildcats stopped the fourth-down attempt that followed.
But with Weber’s offense scuffling, Utah got the ball back one minute later and Moss burst through the middle for an 86-yard touchdown, giving the Utes a 14-10 lead with 6:34 left in the first half.
Utah never looked back.
“That’s as good a defense as anybody’s going to play this year. That’s an elite, big-time, Pac-12 — not just a good defense, that’s one of the elite ones in the country. (Our offense) is only going to get better.”
Gay kicked a 35-yarder to end the half for a 17-10 lead. Huntley connected on touchdown throws to Zack Moss and Siaosi Mariner in the third quarter and a 29-yard toss to Brant Kuithe in the fourth to put the Utes up 38-10.
Sandwiched in that rally was a spoiled reverse pass Covey tucked, then he sliced, diced and juked through Weber’s defense in a prototypical Covey play.
Hill said once the Wildcats got down 24-10, players looked to make big plays and blew coverages instead of sticking with assignments.
“We’d been being stout, but bottom line, we started making things up a little bit. We can’t do that. Good teams don’t do that.”
With only pride left to play for, Weber’s defense kept going. With 10 minutes left in the fourth, linebacker Noah Vaea forced a fumble from Utah running back Armand Shyne at midfield. Weber forced another fumble with 6 minutes left and won the turnover battle 4-0.
Garrett left the game late in the first quarter with a knee sprain after an awkward tackle. His status going forward was unknown after the game.
Both teams were led in rushing by Moss: Zack Moss had 150 yards on 16 carries for Utah, Clay Moss had 26 yards on seven attempts for WSU.
Huntley finished 24 of 39 for 253 yards and four TDs for Utah. Jenks was 5 of 22 for 13 yards.