SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Tyler Huntley passed for one touchdown and ran for another as No. 13 Utah held Northern Illinois to 69 yards in the second half and beat the Huskies 35-17 on Saturday.
After a shaky first half, the Utah defense clamped down on the Huskies with an effective pass rush, an interception and a fourth-down stop.
"We didn't play our best football defensively in that first half. Offensive, however, we did. We played very well form start to finish. I thought Tyler was outstanding," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Huntley finished 14 for 19 for 214 yards and ran for 38 yards, without a sack for second straight game.
"The coaches are asking more of me," the senior quarterback said. "Every time we come to the line I am ready to get us into a better play for the offense to execute. I take great pride in putting us int he best position."
Northern Illinois kept pace with Utah in the first two quarters with an effective mix of short passes and QB runs. Bowers had 202 yards passing to eight receivers from a variety of formations as the vaunted Utes defense couldn't seem to predict where the each pass was going.
Last year, the Huskies kept Moss to 66 yards, his lowest rushing total of the season as Utah edged NIU, 17-6, in DeKalb. Moss, tops in the nation for yards after contact the past couple years, carried tacklers on nearly every play as the Huskies keyed on the Utes running back. That opened the field for Huntley and the receiving corps, who only saw 16 pass plays in the season opener against BYU.
After going 5 for 5 and 52 yards passing on NIU's first scoring drive, Bowers waited for a key block and somersaulted into the end zone over late-arriving Utes tacklers.
"I was getting a lot of great protection. I thought our receivers played really, really hard. I thought they did a good job of pressing Utah's secondary," said Bowers, who finished 20 of 29 with 229 yards passing.
New Huskies coach Thomas Hammock suffered his first loss as NIU has never defeated a team ranked as highly as Utah. For the second straight season, the Huskies made the Utes sweat, beyond what was expected with the 11 a.m. start and temperatures in the 80s under sunny skies.
"We had some different type of run/pass options for the quarterback and they were giving us looks to throw the ball that were advantageous," Hammock said. "The quarterback and receivers did a great job taking advantage of what the defense was giving us."
Midway through the second quarter, the score was tied at 14-14. Spencer Tears flashed an upside-down 'U' with his hands after catching a 74-yard reception, drawing vociferous boos from the north end zone fans.
"We came out with a more ticked off attitude after they scored like that on us in our home stadium," said Bradlee Anae, who had three sacks and a forced fumble. "We had to come out and play harder as a defense. We were mad."
Vonte Davis — in at safety for injured Ute Julian Blackmon, who later returned and had an interception — underestimated Tears' speed as the wideout stepped out of his tackle and raced down the NIU sideline. It was NIU's longest pass play since Tears had an 81-yard scoring reception against San Diego State in 2017.
The Utes, who were the media's preseason choice to win the Pac-12, had just one penalty and hasn't turned the ball over this year.
NIU's Mykelti Williams was ejected for targeting in the fourth quarter after his big hit caused a fumble that was negated by the penalty. On the next play, Huntley found Jaylen Dixon for a 14-yard TD pass.
The Utes continue to play mistake-free football but the modest score against a Group-of-5 opponent may not make a big impression on the voters.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies had one of the nation's top defenses befuddled until the Utes made some crucial adjustments in their pass defense and pressures.
Utah: The Utes haven't lost a home opener since dropping the 2007 debut to Air Force, 20-12. It wasn't pretty early, but the Utes had a balanced attack of 214 passing and 193 yards rushing and the outcome wasn't in doubt after Moss's 5-yard TD run in the third quarter. "That's the goal every week for the run game to help the pass game and the pass game to help the run game," Moss said of the balanced attack.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies visit No. 25 Nebraska.
Utah: The Utes complete their preseason schedule without leaving the state by hosting Idaho State on Saturday.
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