SALT LAKE CITY — Utah talked all week about getting its swagger back after four consecutive demoralizing losses. The Utes did exactly that, led by a pair of Florida high school teammates in Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss.
Huntley had 327 total yards and four passing touchdowns as Utah defeated short-handed UCLA 48-17 on Friday night.
The Utes (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) snapped a four-game losing streak and are one win away from becoming bowl eligible.
“Tonight we did, we’ll see,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said about getting their edge back. “We played with a lot of passion with a chip on our shoulder.
“Our program is in the Pac-12 because we played with a chip on our shoulder all those years. That was the point of emphasis this week, getting back to that mentality.”
UCLA (4-5, 2-4) was without starting quarterback Josh Rosen due to a concussion sustained last week against No. 12 Washington. He did not travel to Salt Lake City and his absence was obvious as the Bruins were held to 249 total yards. Rosen’s 339.1 passing yards per game ranks fourth in the nation. Redshirt freshman Devon Modster made his first career start.
Neither team’s offense look particularly coherent in the first half, but Utah exploded in the third quarter to put the game away. The Utes scored on their first three drives of the second half after leading 17-10 at halftime.
Utah running back Troy McCormick caught a 75-yard touchdown on a wheel route on the first play of the third when a UCLA defender ran into a receiver.
Moss, who finished with career-highs in rushing yards (153) and attempts (23) and scored two touchdowns, took a handoff 20 yards for a score after a straight arm to a linebacker to go up 31-10.
Huntley iced it with a 13-yard touchdown pass to an uncovered McCormick to take a 38-10 lead with 8:20 left in the third. Huntley’s four touchdown passes matched a career high.
Utah’s running game had been pedestrian during its losing streak and several players had requested more attempts. They got it with season-high 50 rushes — 41 between Huntley and Moss — against the worst run defense in the nation. UCLA entered allowing 307.13 rushing yards per game.
“That was the game plan this week,” Moss said. “Get the run game going because it opens up a lot more things for us. The D was just off-balance all game long.
“We got our swag back in that first half. … We knew if we cut down the penalties we would be more explosive.”
Modster completed 8 of 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown before being replaced by freshman Matt Lynch in the fourth. The Bruins were held to 12 first downs and converted 3 of 12 third downs.
“I’ve never been through anything like this before, but you have to find ways to endure it,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said.
UCLA: The Bruins need Rosen back. Modster was efficient, but the trust clearly wasn’t there. UCLA had eight first-half pass attempts, including one by a receiver, and 16 rushes. The offense is built around Rosen and it turned into a running scheme without him.
Utah: The Utes adjusted their goals after the four-game losing streak to get the seniors to a bowl game. The Utes face No. 12 Washington and No. 25 Washington State the next two weeks.
UCLA’s leading receiver Darren Andrews went down untouched on a reverse in the fourth. He was carried off the field by trainers and did not put any pressure on his left leg. Mora said he “blew out his knee.” The senior had 66 receiving yards, including a 42-yard touchdown, and is now tied for tenth in school history with 60 receptions in a single season.
Utah safety Chase Hansen left with an injury in the third.
The Utes’ leading receiver Darren Carrington had 51 yards and a touchdown, but Whittingham said didn’t return after halftime and didn’t detail the issue.
The targeting rule continues to be controversial in the way it has been implemented and several Pac-12 coaches have complained recently. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who was in Salt Lake City, said the rule has helped without changing the “fundamental nature” of the game.
“Targeting is one of the areas that people spend as much time on as anything in the offseason,” Scott said. “It has required adjustments in how coaches coach and the methods they’re used to. We’ve shrunk the target area.
“I do think for some time it will continue to be evaluated very carefully. … There is a sense that these rules are having a positive impact on the game. Coaches are adjusting how they’re teaching. Student athletes are changing the way they hit and the game is becoming safer as a result.”
UCLA hosts Arizona State next Saturday in Pac-12 South action.
Utah hosts No. 25 Washington State next Saturday.