PK: Utah Football Beats Florida To Erase Negative Hovering Program

Aug 31, 2023, 9:48 PM | Updated: Sep 1, 2023, 1:01 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Eventually, given enough time, a Kyle Whittingham-coached football team will check off all the necessary boxes.

An undefeated season.

Winning record in a Pac-12 season.

Winning the South Division.

Winning the Pac-12 championship.

Check, check, check, and check.

Nothing Utah did during Thursday’s season-opening 24-11 win over Florida at Rice-Eccles Stadium matches the recent accomplishments, but it still erased a negative that had hovered over the program for a few years. Given all the success the Utes have achieved entering Whittingham’s 19th season as head coach, it had to gnaw on them and him that the team had not defeated a non-conference Power 5 opponent since beating West Virginia in a forgettable bowl game in 2017.

At least for one week, with a road trip to Baylor up next, the Utes can put to bed the annoying talking point that all their success has been on the backs of beating inferior Pac-12 teams. Any win over a Southeastern Conference team is good enough, even if this version of the Gators is a far cry from the era in which Urban Meyer’s program tormented folks on and off the field.

As expected, despite his assertions of feeling “pretty damn good” during the week, quarterback Cam Rising watched the game adorned in shorts, a T-shirt, and a baseball cap. For all the silly cat-and-mouse games Whittingham played, going so far as to say he had no clue on the starting quarterback three days before kickoff, Rising never was going to be cleared after suffering a significant knee injury nine months ago in the Rose Bowl loss to Penn State.

Turns out, also as expected, the Utes did not need him. It took only one play – a 70-yard touchdown pass to Money Parks on Utah’s first play from scrimmage – for Rising’s backup to feel pretty damn good about himself.

Starting his fourth year in the program, Bryson Barnes was more noted for a touchdown pass on Jan. 1, 2022, in Pasadena and being a pig farmer in tiny Milford. Pass the bacon, Barnes didn’t splatter egg on his face in his second career start (he led the Utes over Washington State last season).

Likely knowing he would get the nod some two weeks ago after redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Rose suffered an injury during a scrimmage, Barnes displayed the poise of a long-time starter. He played exactly to Whittingham’s philosophy – take care of the ball and don’t put the defense in a bad position.

The same goes for another redshirt freshman quarterback, who spotted Barnes as Whittingham indicated would happen. Nate Johnson, who saw limited duty in the wildcat formation last season, relieved Barnes twice in the second quarter and lived up to his billing.

Regarded as an excellent athlete, Johnson did engineer a first down on his first series before the offense stalled. Taking over in the middle of the following Utah series, Johnson used some nifty moves to scamper 27 yards for a touchdown to provide a 14-3 lead.

While any win, especially over an SEC team, is worth some sort of celebration, please remember Florida is a shadow of the Tim Tebow glory days. Long gone are when Meyer left Utah and led the Gators to 13-1 records three out of four seasons from 2006-09.

Much like last season, when they finished 6-7 despite beating Utah in coach Billy Napier’s first game, the Gators will need to surge to again gain bowl eligibility. More than likely, accounting for upcoming wins over McNeese State and Charlotte, they will struggle during SEC play.

RELATED: Attendance Record Broken As No. 14 Utah Football Beats Florida Gators In Season Opener

But none of that matters to the Utes, who also were without injured star tight end Brant Kuithe. The competition will get better as the season progresses, and in time Whittingham’s team will check off the wins as they come.

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PK: Utah Football Beats Florida To Erase Negative Hovering Program