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Brad Rock: Utes' offense will need to show up earlier in the future

Utah Utes running back Zack Moss breaks free for a touchdown against Weber State Wildcats cornerback Jordan Preator during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.
Utah Utes running back Zack Moss breaks free for a touchdown against Weber State Wildcats cornerback Jordan Preator during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018.
Ravell Call

SALT LAKE CITY — Old narrative with the Ute football team: It starts with defense.

Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, you could add this: It ends with offense.

A 41-10 win over Weber State is nothing for Utah to bemoan. But there is also nothing to indicate where these teams will finish the season. Wearing down the Wildcats after a room temperature first half sheds little light. The Utes did clarify one thing: This is still a Kyle Whittingham team, which means it’s as stingy as Scrooge. Weber finished with only 61 yards of total offense.

The Ute offense was late arriving, per tradition. Utah scored fewer points in the first quarter than any other, last season.

Despite rolling for 587 yards, only 86 were in the first quarter. Twenty-four points came in the last 30 minutes. For now, Utah’s offensive proficiency is fool’s gold. Weber State isn’t Arizona State, Washington State or even Oregon State. It’s a team that is coming off the best season in its history and picked to finish second in the Big Sky.

But it will be the same story as always for the Utes if they don’t get offense early and often this year.

“First game of the season,” said receiver Samson Nacua, “and maybe the worst. Watch next game — we’ll be a lot better. I promise.”

In the third quarter, the Utes put it out of reach. Britain Covey weaved, shifted, hesitated, idled and peeled out on his way to a 38-yard run that set up Utah’s third touchdown. Siaosi Mariner caught a 39-yard scoring strike. Mitch Wishnowsky rumbled 11 yards on a fake punt. Brant Kuithe caught a 29-yard scoring pass. Jaylen Dixon snagged a 40-yard toss. Jason Shelley ran for 40 yards.

Cool for them, but did they have to do it on tape delay?

Too often the Utes act like pop stars, showing up when they’re ready. Last season they gave up the game’s first score to North Dakota, Stanford, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington State and Washington. All but North Dakota was a loss.

Weber took a page straight from the small-school playbook: get inspired, keep it close and hope for a late break. Though the Utes are 40-0 all-time against Big Sky Conference teams, that doesn’t mean they have always been perfect. In three of the four previous games against the Wildcats, Weber took the lead.

The Wildcats didn’t relinquish the lead until Zack Moss accelerated up the middle for an 86-year touchdown run, putting the Utes ahead 14-10. Before that they muffed a punt, threw an interception and had a field goal blocked.

“It was a comedy of errors,” Whittingham said.

The final numbers included one interception and three lost fumbles.

The halftime show featured photos and video of memorable Utah teams throughout its 125-year history.

This one wasn’t included.

For half a game, the hype about Utah’s offensive talent looked grossly overcooked. If you didn’t know better, you may have thought Utah was nervous. But Weber called a timeout before the game clock had begun. Moments later there was a delay of game whistle.

“Fast start. I thought they came out of the gate not intimidated and excited about the atmosphere, and then proceeded to get our butts kicked,” said Weber coach Jay Hill.

Utah?

It played like the game started at 7 p.m., not 6.

For 30 minutes, the young season looked surprisingly old. In other words, it looked like last year’s Utes. They were 52nd nationally in total offense and scoring offense, but 25th in total defense.

Considering Weber couldn’t move the ball, the 17-10 halftime difference could have been 70-7 — the final score last time they met.

“Non-conference game, and they put up a good fight,” Nacua said when asked about Utah’s tendency last year to start slowly. “It will probably be one of our worst games as an offense. We’re not too happy. We’ll come out next game and show what we can do, and how much better we are.”

Showing up early would help.