PK: Utah Football Continues To Compete Despite Injuries

Oct 14, 2023, 5:09 PM

Utah Utes Football Cal Golden Bears...

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - OCTOBER 14: Bryson Barnes #16 of the Utah Utes scores a touchdown against Patrick McMorris #9 of the California Golden Bears during the second half of their game at Rice-Eccles Stadium October 14, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Halfway through the college football season, relying on a mishmash of lineups due to the well-documented rash of injuries, Utah somewhat remarkably can still entertain hopes of a third consecutive conference championship.

But don’t start making any non-refundable deposits for the trip to Las Vegas in December. The 2-1 Pac-12 record (5-1 overall) is largely circumstantial, built on lesser competition.

Not that Cal is necessarily a bad team, but the Utes are better even with being previously offensively challenged. They proved as much Saturday, beating the Bears 34-14 on a beautiful sun-splashed afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“Really good team win for us today,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It was good to see the offense come alive.”

Cal’s goal as usual is bowl eligibility, a feat the program has achieved only three times in the last 10 seasons. The Bears also haven’t been above .500 in conference play since Jeff Tedford, who is now at Fresno State, was the coach in 2009.

OK, maybe Cal is mediocre at best. Let’s turn to Utah’s other conference win against UCLA, which was in no position to beat Utes last month starting a quarterback barely removed from high school.

Still, with Halloween looming, the Utes deserve plenty of credit for finding enough ways to stay in contention. An outstanding defense, mixed in with a splash of occasional offense, can keep a team in virtually every game.

The formula again was on display against the Bears, who managed to sneak a receiver behind the defense in the first and third quarters for two touchdowns. Mostly, though, with the game still in reach, it was a series of punts and turnovers.

Are you on Threads yet? Let’s connect, give us a follow @kslsports

Linebacker Lander Barton’s interception off a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage gave Utah a short field to set up the first touchdown. Cole Bishop’s fumble recovery off on heavy pressure on the quarterback inside Cal’s 15-yard early in the third quarter led to another touchdown that essentially put the game away.

At this rate, as the results prove, this is the blueprint for Utah to succeed. Anything else might be a pipedream, with the two best weapons on offense still not in uniform.

Quarterback Cam Rising and tight end Brant Kuithe have yet to play in a game this season, denying any chance the Utes had to resemble a potent offense. Until further notice, with no need to give Rising any practice reps until his doctor fully clears him, expect much of the same.

For now, forget about any consistency at quarterback. The merry-go-round between Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson has stopped back on Barnes.

The former walk-on, who began the season as the starter and then was benched in the next week, is back in charge. Barnes provides enough of a passing threat to at least prevent the opposition from stacking the line of scrimmage.

“We need all cylinders firing at once for that sucker to go,” Barnes said.

There’s also a resurgent running game, surprisingly led by Sione Vaki, who also plays safety in his spare time, and former quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson. Good thing Utah got going on the ground game (317 yards rushing) because the back half of the season is no joke.

It starts next week against USC in Los Angeles. For all the Trojans’ ineptitude on defense, which has not shown any improvement over last season’s mostly embarrassing performance, the offense is arguably better than when quarterback Caleb Williams won the Heisman Trophy last season.

Can the Utes put up 30 points in the Coliseum? The defense may have to chip in to get there.

“We know we always need to get those takeaways,” said defensive end Jonah Ellis.

The same goes for Oregon the following game and then two weeks later against Washington in Seattle. The truth is, Utes should take a great level of accomplishment in maintaining a national ranking all season even if a loss or two looms ahead.

“Got some tough games coming up, obviously,” Whittingham said.

Take us with you, wherever you go.

Download the new & improved KSL Sports app from Utah’s sports leader. You can stream live radio, video and stay up to date on all of your favorite teams.

  • Utah Utes Scoreboard

  • Utah Utes Team Leaders

  • Utah Utes Standings

Utah Utes


Michelle Bodkin

Former Utah Utes Athletes Set To Compete At 2024 Paris Olympics

All eyes turn to Paris, France, next week for the 2024 Summer Olympics and there will be a few former Utah athletes taking the big stage.

3 days ago


Brian Preece

Locals In MiLB: Justin Sterner Gets Second Cup Of Coffee With Tampa Bay Rays

The life of a minor league bullpen arm is rarely straightforward, as former BYU Cougar standout pitcher Justin Sterner can attest.

5 days ago


Michelle Bodkin

Kai Roberts, Micah Ashman Recount High School Basketball Rivalry After MLB Draft

Former Utah baseball stars Kai Roberts and Micah Ashman recounted a high school basketball rivalry after being drafted to the MLB.

5 days ago

merit jones...

Brian Preece

Utah Baseball Starting Pitcher Merit Jones Selected By Minnesota Twins

The Boston Red Sox have selected University of Utah starting pitcher Merit Jones with the 608th overall pick in the 2024 MLB draft.

6 days ago

micah ashman...

Brian Preece

Detroit Tigers Select Utah Utes Closer Micah Ashman In MLB Draft

Micah Ashman is the second Ute to hear his name called in the 2024 MLB draft after the Detroit Tigers picked him in the 11th round.

6 days ago


Michelle Bodkin

Getting To Know Utah Football’s 2024 Schedule: Arizona State Sun Devils

It’s time to dive into Utah football's game six against another familiar former Pac-12 foe in the Arizona State Sun Devils

6 days ago

Sponsored Articles


KSL Sports

Utah Hockey Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Want to get the latest info on Utah's newest sports franchise? Sign up for the Utah Hockey newsletter!


KSL Sports

KSL Sports Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Sign up today for the KSL Sports newsletter. Get the latest Utah sports news delivered to your inbox.


KSL Sports

Jazz Notes Newsletter: Sign Up Now

Sign up today for the Jazz Notes newsletter. Get insider analysis, game recaps and opportunities to win tickets!

3 kids wearing real salt lake jerseys smiling...

Real Salt Lake

6 Reasons You Need to Experience a RSL Matchday

RSL Games are a great way to spend time with your family with fun activities, good food, and traditions you can only experience at the field.

High angle view of the beautiful Rose Bowl Stadium...

KSL Digital Sales

How to Prepare for the 2023 Rose Bowl

Everything you need to know to plan your 2023 Rose Bowl trip in Pasadena, California. This year, the Utes will face Penn State.


KSL Digital Sales

Notable Moments From The Utah Jazz Season… So Far

At the beginning of the season, the Utah Jazz were second to last. Now they rank in the top 10 teams in the Western Conference.

PK: Utah Football Continues To Compete Despite Injuries