Urban Meyer's successful debut was only a few minutes old. He had just walked off the field and into the locker room at Rice-Eccles Stadium following Utah's 40-20 win over Utah State.
"I saw a bunch of discouraged faces for some reason, and I don't have any understanding why," Meyer said. "There are some things we can correct upon, but we just beat a rival. We just beat a good team."
The Utes never trailed in defeating the Aggies for the sixth straight year. A 15-yard touchdown pass from Brett Elliott to Larry Miles with 7:16 to play in the first quarter put Utah ahead for good.
Paced by tailback Brandon Warfield, who carried the ball 33 times for 173 yards and a touchdown, the Utes simply ran away from the Aggies.
"Coach said he'd let me run a lot if we were able to have success," Warfield said. "We still need to take care of little things, but I felt like we did pretty good."
Aside from two interceptions and a botched snap that led to a safety, the Utes got the job done in their inaugural outing under Meyer.
"We just need to make it look better," starting quarterback Brett Elliott said. "But a win is a win, and we scored 40 points on a bad day. The offensive plan was to run the ball if we could and pass if we had to. Tonight, we were able to run it well."
Utah ran the ball 53 times and threw it just 26 while netting 382 yards of total offense and 24 first downs. Warfield proved to be the primary weapon by taking two snaps from center and catching a pass. Paris Warren drew praise from Meyer by leading the receiving corps with seven catches for 103 yards and a touchdown.
The score came on a 30-yard pass from backup quarterback Alex Smith, who was 5-of-7 for 86 yards and a pair of TDs. Elliott completed 11-of-19 throws for 94 yards and a score. He was intercepted twice, however, including once in the end zone.
"We need to learn to finish things," Meyer said. "Our offensive red-zone production was bad, and the two interceptions were disappointing."
Defensively, linebacker Ray Holdcraft topped the Utes with eight tackles. Spencer Toone recovered a fumble, and Morgan Scalley picked off a pass as Utah overcame 357 yards of total offense by the Aggies.
"The defense's expectations were higher, but what you have to remember is that we only have three returning starters," Meyer said. "We just have to get better."
Playing without All-American candidate Jason Kaufusi, who did not dress because of his ailing left shoulder, the Utes managed to record two quarterback sacks and force 22 incompletions. USU's highly touted tight end, Chris Cooley, failed to catch a pass until less than eight minutes remained in the third quarter.
Before the final frame began, Utah's streak of consecutive quarters without surrendering a touchdown was snapped at seven over three games. It came with 25 seconds remaining in the third.
Special teams contributions were highlighted by Bryan Borreson's two field goals and four PATs, as well as Bo Nagahi's 40-yard kickoff return. A missed extra-point kick and a bad snap that forced punter Matt Kovacevich to knock the ball out of bounds for a safety were the primary shortcomings.
Utah resumes practice today in preparation for next Saturday's game at Texas A&M.
SCORE: Utah 40, Utah State 20
RECORDS: Utah 1-0, 0-0, Utah State 0-1, 0-0
OFFENSE: Urban Meyer's spread attack made an effective, albeit unspectacular, debut — racking up 382 yards and 24 first downs. Brandon Warfield proved to be the star with 173 yards rushing and one touchdown. GRADE: B
DEFENSE: Utah bent, but didn't break. The Utes stopped the Aggies on third down nine times and on fourth twice. They recovered a fumble and picked off a pass to offset the 357 yards USU's offense gained. GRADE: B
SPECIAL TEAMS: A bad snap led to a safety in the third quarter. Punter Matt Kovacevich was forced to bat the ball out of the end zone. The kicking game wasn't all bad, however, as Bryan Borreson made two field goals. GRADE: B
NEXT UP: Utah at Texas A&M, Sept. 6, 6 p.m. (MDT), KJZZ-TV, Ch. 14.