SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — With its star running back and quarterback knocked out of the game in the first half, No. 13 Utah’s hopes for a special season seemed as dim as the dark clouds around Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night.
The rain kept falling but the mood changed considerably, with Zack Moss returning to score two touchdowns and break the school rushing record and Tyler Huntley playing long enough to steady the Utes in a 21-3 victory over No. 17 Arizona State.
That said, it was the defense that stole the show on this rainy night.
“Our defense was lights out,” said Kyle Whittingham, a defense-first coach who admitted to exulting in the low-scoring affair. “I can’t remember a better defensive effort, certainly not as of late.”
The Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) ended Arizona State’s modern-era record streak of 125 games with more than 10 points. The last time the Sun Devils were held under double-digits was a 28-0 loss to Southern California in 2008.
Moss was held in check most of the game as Arizona State (5-2, 2-2) keyed on the senior back. But Moss broke through the line and outraced the defense for a 32-yard touchdown run that broke the rushing mark with 5:24 left.
“It was an honor for us as a defense to get the ball back for Zack and then be able to witness history,” Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu said.
Moss ran for 99 yards on 25 carries to push his total to 3,264. Eddie Johnson set the previous record, running for 3,219 yards from 1984-88.
“If I had 40 yards, 30 yards, as long as we won that was the biggest thing to me,” said Moss, whose family was able to fly in from South Florida and witness the performance. “But (setting the record) was nice too . it was emotional to have them all here.”
Eno Benjamin ran for 104 yards but Arizona State managed only 136 yards of total offense.
Freshman Jayden Daniels was 4 for 18 for 25 yards and an interception. He was sacked three times and was running from pressure almost every time he dropped back.
“Relentless defense. They’re going to get after the quarterback,” Daniels said after ranking Utah’s front as the best he’s faced.
Utah was one of just three teams in the country without an interception, but Arizona State’s Chase Lucas picked off Tyler Huntley’s pass and returned it to the Utah 28 in the third quarter. In the end, Arizona State couldn’t capitalize on Utah’s four turnovers.
“It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over four times, but we found a way but that’s just another credit to our defense,” Whittingham said.
Huntley, who passed for 171 yards before leaving in the third quarter, was hobbled after he took a hit in the second quarter as he tried to scramble out of a sack. The play was reminiscent of last year against Arizona State when he evaded an initial tackle and sustained a broken collarbone on the ensuing hit that left him out for the rest of the season.
“He’s a fierce competitor and he was bound and determined to go out and finish,” said Whittingham, who added that Huntley begged to keep going back on the field but after another hit later in the contest, the Utes kept their QB on the sideline with important games still to play.
Tyler Johnson knocked the ball out of Huntley’s right hand and Jermayne Lole recovered at the Utah 18, which led to Arizona State’s only score — Cristian Zendejas’ 40-yard field goal.
Moss took a swing pass 46 yards on Utah’s opening possession, but fumbled and Evan Fields recovered and returned it 18 yards for Arizona State. Utah was driving later in the quarter and Demari Simpkins lost another fumble after a pass reception on the Arizona State 11. On their third trip inside the Sun Devils 25, Jaylen Dixon finally converted on a 10-yard end around.
Fields was ejected for a targeting penalty on Moss in the second quarter. The play nearly started a brawl as several Utes charged the defender. Fields was so frustrated by the call he flung his helmet against the wall as he was escorted to the locker room.
Cornerback Kobe Williams said the game was unusually physical and even chippy. “We got out of whack. Coach always tells us to play with passion, not emotion. We played with emotion,” Williams said.
Later in that drive with the injuries, Moss and Huntley returned and Moss scored on a 1-yard run to make it 14-0 for Utah at halftime.
Utah defense has only given up one TD in the last 11 quarters and that was a last-minute score in the Utes’ 52-7 win over Oregon State.
The Sun Devils offense never crossed midfield in the first half and had just 42 total yards and two first downs.
“They hit us in the mouth and they beat us up,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said.
The Utes have won 10 straight home games.
The Utes may take a jump in the polls after a smothering victory over a fellow ranked team. The Sun Devils were looking for their third straight road win this season over a ranked team but never really threatened.
Arizona State: Besides a handful of successful runs by Benjamin, the offense never got untracked. Daniels was under constant pressure and 12 penalties for 122 yards stopped any momentum before it really began. The defense played well but the Sun Devils failed to take advantage of the four turnovers.
Utah: The Utes suffered a slew of injuries to offensive lineman Darrin Paulo, receivers Solomon Enis and Bryan Thompson along with the dings to Moss and Huntley. Fortunately for Utah, Moss returned and gave the Utes their only effective offense of the second half. The top-10 defense looks stronger each week and will be key to another run to the Pac-12 South title.
Arizona State: At UCLA next Saturday.
Utah: Hosts California next Saturday.