Utah eyes 21st straight non-conference win with visit to NIU
DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Utah might be the last team Northern Illinois would have liked to host this particular weekend.
Northern Illinois (0-1) lost 33-7 at Iowa last week, scuffling to score while Utah (1-0) held Weber State to just 59 net yards of offense in a 41-10 victory. The Utes will play the Huskies on Saturday night looking for their 21st straight non-conference victory since 2012 in a rare Midwest trip.
It’s the Utes’ first game in Illinois in 30 years and first against a Mid-American Conference foe.
“I would say it was a very good defensive effort,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of last week’s win. “We tackled well. We only missed six tackles which is pretty good in any game, particularly for an opener.”
The Utes trailed 10-0 before scoring 41 unanswered points. Junior Zack Moss helped spark the surge with an 86-yard second quarter touchdown run, the fourth longest in school history. He closed with 150 rushing yards and 24 receiving, including a nine-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Tyler Huntley, who was 24 of 39 for 253 yards.
The Huskies, one of the preseason favorites in the MAC West, were lackluster and inconsistent against Iowa.
“Our preparation has to get better,” Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said. “We played two and half quarters of good football and a quarter and a half of awful football. We need to prepare harder to play four quarters of good football.”
The Huskies managed 211 yards total offense against Iowa, including 101 net rushing, but a historically strong offensive line gave up five sacks and eight tackles for loss.
“They are good,” said Whittingham. “They have a different look this year because last year they deployed multiple tight ends and one got injured in camp. So the personnel groupings are quite a bit different than they were last year. But the running back (Nettles) ran hard, he was tough.”
Huntley had his choice of targets last Saturday. Twelve different players caught passes, including seven catches and a game-high 79 yards by Britain Covey. Huntley, who had his third four-touchdown day of his career, passed for 2,411 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017.
TOP OF THE CHARTS
Weber State’s 59 yards of total offense was the third-fewest by a Utes opponent in school history. Utah currently leads the nation in total defense and also leads in first down defense after allowing the Wildcats just three. Utah is second in passing yards allowed (13.0), fourth in pass efficiency defense (27.69) and tied for fourth in tackles for loss (12.0).
LAND OF LINCOLN LINKS
Utah is the first Pac-12 team to visit Northern Illinois, which usually plays Power Five conference opponents on the road. The Utes have faced only one other Illinois team in program history, dropping a 35-24 decision at Illinois in 1988. The Huskies are 0-2 against teams from Utah with losses to Utah State in 1995 and 2013.
Northern Illinois junior defensive end Sutton Smith, just the second consensus All-American in team history, led country in tackles for loss (29.5) and quarterback sacks (14.0) in 2017. At Iowa he added to his career totals with a sack as well as a forced fumble.
BACK AT YOU
Northern Illinois travels to Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019, to complete the home-and-home series. No other games are scheduled between the teams, according to future slates through 2027.