Traveling to Illinois for just the second time in school history did not phase the Utes this week, as they won their first road game of the season against Northern Illinois, 17-6.
This score is considerably lower than my preseason prediction of 24-17. Even I couldn’t foresee such a strong defensive showing by both sides. Going into halftime with only one score is weird given the nature of the game, even more so because of the two teams competing. Utah’s offense put up 40 points on one of the best defenses in the Big-Sky Conference last week against Weber State, and NIU had a defense that gave their quarterbacks lots of playing time against Iowa last week. Although it may be an anomaly, Utah came away with the win, and isn’t that all that matters?
Utah’s run game was quiet in this one, with Zack Moss only accumulating 66 rushing yards. While still productive in drawing defensive players, that’s an incredibly low number for a running back of his caliber. Moss had more yards in one run last week than he did all day in this game. Is that unsettling? A little bit, but NIU boasted one of the better defenses in the country, and most certainly in their conference.
Once again, Utah’s defense came to play. Keeping a team out of your end zone is no small feat, and only allowing two field goals means that the defensive team kept the Huskies around the 50-yard line most of the game, which is fantastic when it comes to keeping consistent pressure.
Utah’s defense also contributed to their scoring, with Chase Hansen intercepting a pass from Huskies’ quarterback Marcus Childers and running it back in for a go-ahead touchdown. This ended all hopes of a comeback and secured the Utes’ second win of the season and the first in the state of Illinois.
Another member who was surprisingly off performance was Lou Gourza-award-winner Matt Gay, who missed two field goals in this game. Granted, one of them was blocked, but six extra points would have put this game away much earlier for the Utes. While perfect on PATs, Gay will need to make those kicks if he hopes to stay in the conversation for the best kicker in the country.
The Utes return home next week to play another set of huskies, this time out of the University of Washington, in their first Pac-12 game of the season.