PK: Utah, Southern Utah Each Accomplished Objectives In Utes’ 73-7 Victory

Sep 10, 2022, 3:42 PM
Kyle-Whittingham-Utah-Utes-DeLane Fitzgerald-Southern-Utah-Thunderbirds-2022...
Head coach Kyle Whittingham of the Utah Utes talks with head coach DeLane Fitzgerald of the Southern Utah Thunderbirds during warmups before their game September 10, 2022 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – All basically went as planned several months ago when Utah’s football schedule was released for the 2022 season.

The Utes got in a nice workout and broke a sweat in dispatching physically and athletically inferior Southern Utah 73-7 on a smoky, sun-filled Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium. At no point, going back several years, was this game ever going to be competitive.

“Obviously, we did a lot of good things,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We expected to win. That’s a given.”

Not to say that it was one big waste of time. Both teams, which each side already knew, got precisely what they were looking for the second the contract was signed.

No doubt still angry they squandered a golden opportunity to grab a share of the national spotlight in last week’s three-point loss at Florida, the Utes wanted a feel-good performance before the schedule turns tougher heading into Pac-12 play in two weeks. At the same time, they made enough mistakes to give the coaches plenty of ammunition to harp on during practice next week.

SUU, which is making the transition from the Big Sky to the Western Athletic Conference, understood the task at hand was impossible. The Thunderbirds got a decent payday to help fund the athletic department and a few good-game pats on the back before heading home to Cedar City.

Besides nailing down the guaranteed win, Utah’s objectives were to finish drives with touchdowns in the red zone and fortify the play of the front seven on defense. Whittingham was disappointed with both aspects in last week’s loss.

The offense had no trouble cashing in on red zone opportunities against SUU. Five scores, including four touchdowns, all originated inside the SUU 20-yard line.

Of course, given the opponent, anything Whittingham called out before the game was bound to improve. Hard truth is a scrimmage between all 22 Utah starters would have provided far better competition.

At least the Utes stumbled a bit to justify the criticism coming their way from the coaches. They were far from perfect, which isn’t exactly a bad thing considering the game lacked any level of intensity.

Utah’s offense provided plenty of coaching moments on the subsequent possessions in the first half after the opening drive netted a touchdown. The bumbling and stumbling started with a false start by tight end Dalton Kincaid, a dropped pass by stellar tight end Brant Kuithe after a hard hit and then running back Tavion Thomas’ fumble deep in Utah territory.

Not to be outdone, on the first play after the Thomas fumble, the defense allowed a 28-yard touchdown run straight up the middle of the field by backup quarterback Grady Robison. Other than that, you’re nitpicking.

“We were dominant on the front seven,” said freshman linebacker Lander Barton.

Going big picture, there is one other thing that continues to hamper Utah’s offense. Longtime Ute fans know it full well – the inability to get big plays out of the wide receivers.

During the Pac-12 media day in Los Angeles seven weeks ago, quarterback Cam Rising spoke of having an improved arm strength – he suffered a severe shoulder injury in 2020 – that would result in more big plays downfield. Yet, it was the same familiar Utes against Florida, with a heavy emphasis on the run and only 216 yards in passing.

As Whittingham has noted repeatedly, the tight end combination of Kuithe and Kincaid ranks with any in college football. After Kuithe posted 105 yards in receiving last week, Kincaid totaled 107 yards on seven receptions in the first half alone against the fabulous Thunderbirds.

But we’re still waiting on the explosive plays from the wideouts. Before departing after the second quarter, Rising completed 17 passes but only two were to Utah’s best wideout, Devaughn Vele, for a total of 38 yards.

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PK: Utah, Southern Utah Each Accomplished Objectives In Utes’ 73-7 Victory