If I told you the same guy that destroyed any hopes of a Pac-12 South Championship for the Utah Utes, was the same guy who won over Utah fans in Utah’s season opening 37-16 win over North Dakota, you would probably think it was a lie. But it’s true.
Darren Carrington scored the last receiving touchdown of 2016 in Rice-Eccles Stadium as an Oregon player and the first receiving touchdown of 2017 as a Ute.
“It feels great actually – just happy to be here. [I’m] thankful for another chance,” Carrington told reporters after Utah won its 10th-straight season opener against North Dakota 37-16 Thursday night.
The wide receiver caught an 18-yard pass in the second quarter from quarterback Tyler Huntley and led the Utes with 127 receiving yards on 10 receptions. It marks his eighth career 100-yard game and his first at Utah.
“I think it feels pretty good. With Zack and Tyler and myself, we have a lot of weapons. I think the defenses are going to have to pick their poison when they play us,” Carrington replied when asked how he feels he fits in with the offense.
Utah debuted its new fast-paced, pass-first offense under new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. Although you could notice the difference from the start, the Utes need to tighten up their offense as a whole.
In his first college start, Tyler Huntley threw an interception on the opening drive of the game to setup a North Dakota field goal, which gave the Fighting Hawks a 3-0 lead.
Once the sophomore got settled in, we were able to see what he could do with the ball. Huntley threw for 227 yards (23-for-32, 1 INT, I TD) with the 18-yard touchdown pass mentioned above. He had 70 yards (18 carries) on the ground with two touchdowns, scores of 16 and 1 yards.
“There were no nerves. I just had to adjust at the beginning and start playing from there,” Huntley said.
“I do not think it was smooth at the start of the game but it got smoother as the game went on. The play calling was very balanced and that’s Troy Taylor. The offensive line did a nice job pushing them around and we had one turnover, which we can live with, but the ball was way too loose way too often. We have to have better ball security. Pass protection needs to be better since we allowed three sacks. We need more havoc plays, takeaways and sacks. We only had a chance to return one kick and we only punted once so it was tough to gauge where we are on special teams,” Coach Kyle Whittingham said when asked about the scheme of the offense.
The Utes committed 11 penalties for 139 yards. It’s something Whittingham says needs to be cleaned up before next week’s rivalry game against BYU.
“It was a mixed bag. We did some good things. We had far too many penalties overall as a team, most of them were on offense,” said Whittingham.
The Utes had nine receivers who caught passes. Coming in behind Carrington, Siaosi Wilson caught two passes for 30 yards and Samson Nacua had two catches for 19 yards.
Zack Moss had his first career 100-yard rushing game with 128 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown and scored a five-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Moss added 15 yards receiving (2 catches) for a team-high 143 all-purpose yards.
Linebacker Sunia Tauteoli led Utah with 10 tackles. It’s his third career game with at least 10 tackles.
Utah held North Dakota to just 51 yards rushing, including 10 yards rushing in the second half. John Santiago had previously gone 2-for-2 in 100-yard rushing games against FBS opponents and was held to just 20 yards on 10 carries.
Utah safety Chase Hansen weighed in on the team’s defense.
“I thought they looked good. There were a few mistakes made and a lot of credit to North Dakota, but we are going to face better teams. We just have to look at the film and make adjustments.”
Utah will head to Provo to try and beat BYU for the seventh-straight time. It’s an 8:15 p.m. kickoff at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“We’re going to head down south and handle our business – that’s what we’re going to do,” Huntley said with a huge smile on his face.