‘A good starting point’: Utah beat Weber State handily, but has plenty of work to do
The Utes defeated the Wildcats 40-17 to open the 2021 season, but it was a mixed bag.
It was a somewhat typical, season-opening Utah-versus-FCS opponent game Thursday night.
Typical, except that it was held at newly expanded Rice-Eccles Stadium, which welcomed fans back for the first time since 2019. And there was a 90-minute weather delay, as well as heartfelt tributes to fallen hero Ty Jordan.
In the end, the No. 24 Utes took care of business against Weber State, one of the nation’s best FCS programs, with a 40-17 victory.
Yet it was a mixed bag for Utah, as coach Kyle Whittingham and his players acknowledged. There’s a lot they need to clean up before next week’s rivalry game at BYU.
“We have a whole laundry list of stuff to work on this week to keep us busy,” Whittingham said. “As players and coaches, we’ve got to be better next week.”
There were several dropped passes, including at least one that could have been a touchdown; a 99-yard kickoff returned for a touchdown by the Wildcats; untimely penalties; a missed PAT; two turnovers; struggles in the red zone.
Whittingham was also concerned about the play of the offensive line. “I don’t think we played well enough up front,” he said. Better coverage in the defensive secondary is a must also, and Whittingham didn’t like seeing Weber State’s seven-minute drive in the second quarter.
Um, in case you forgot, the Utes did win this game.
With five minutes left in the third quarter, Utah led Weber State by just nine points, 19-10, before finishing with 21 points over the final 20 minutes.
No, it wasn’t always aesthetically pleasing, but there were many bright spots.
Quarterback Charlie Brewer completed 19 of 27 passes for 233 yards, two touchdowns and an interception (on a Hail Mary thrown at the end of the first half).
“It’s good to get a win, but I definitely think that we need to improve in a lot of areas headed into next week, which I think we will,” Brewer said. “It felt really good. It starts with me. I feel like I can play a little bit better. It was a good start. A good starting point. Now we can figure out exactly what we need to do better at.”
The Utes finished with 450 yards of total offense.
“(Brewer) did a good job. His numbers were good, not great,” Whittingham said. “He had great poise in the pocket and he did a nice job keeping his eyes downfield. He was accurate, close to 70% (completion percentage). He did a good job running the offense.”
Whittingham wants to see more production from the passing game.
“We need to throw the football better. We need to throw it more productively and efficiently,” he said. “If you want to be an elite team, you have to be able to throw the ball with a lot of productivity, getting chunk yardage.”
Running back Tavion Thomas finished with a game-high 107 yards and two touchdowns. He also had lost a fumble.
Tight end Dalton Kincaid hauled in four passes for 75 yards and a pair of TDs while Solomon Enis had four grabs for 62 yards and a touchdown.
“Dalton Kincaid is, I think, the best-kept secret in the Pac-12,” Whittingham said. “You saw tonight what he can do. He’s the whole package. He’s a weapon for us.”
Defensively, Utah held Weber State to 270 yards of total offense and limited FCS All-American running back Josh Davis to 17 yards on seven carries.
“He’s a great running back. He’s a great running back. He runs hard. We played assignment sound football at the end of the day,” linebacker Devin Lloyd said. “Coach (Morgan) Scalley had a great game plan, as usual. It was on us to execute our assignments. It all starts up front. The D-line did an incredible job of setting the tone in the trenches.”
The Ute defense forced a pair of Wildcat turnovers.
Things got off to a weird start Thursday night.
Utah’s opening possession was a 10-play, 57-yard drive that stalled in the red zone, ending with a 25-yard field goal by Jordan Redding. On the ensuing kickoff, Weber State took a 7-3 lead on a lightning-quick answer by Rashid Shaheed, who scored on an electrifying 99-yard return.
That was followed by an actual, 90-minute lightning delay with 8:26 remaining in the first quarter. The teams were ordered off the field and most of the fans scattered for the exits as the rain came pouring down. When the game resumed at 7:18 p.m., it didn’t take long for Utah to retake the lead and retake control of the game as Brewer led a five-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kincaid.
Another first quarter highlight included Britain Covey’s zig-zagging, 34-yard punt return that set up another Ute score — a 31-yard field goal by Redding.
Utah’s defense had a strong showing overall, although in the second quarter, Weber State pieced together a 17-play, 74-yard drive that took 7:28 off the clock. The Wildcats marched to the Utah 1-yard line and had first-and-goal. But the Ute defense stiffened and stopped Weber State on four consecutive rushing attempts.
“It was a great goal-line stand but it was ridiculous that we allowed a (17-play) drive,” Whittingham said. “It seemed like 20 plays. It seemed like a million. They ate up eight minutes on the clock and kept the ball away from our offense.”
The Wildcats turned in an impressive drive, but ultimately had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
In the second half, the Utes controlled the game but they walked away impressed with Weber State’s effort.
“They’re a tough team. A very well-coached team as well,” Lloyd said. “They’re very disciplined. Credit goes to them. They fought til the very end.”
Whittingham knows his team has plenty of room for improvement before visiting Provo on Sept. 11.
“There were a lot of good things, but a lot we can work on,” he said.
EXTRA POINTS: Announced attendance was 51,511, a Rice-Eccles Stadium record … Whittingham has now won 220 career games as Utah’s head coach … The Utes now have 12 wins in the Whittingham Era when opening a season at home (12-1) … Utah is 27-1 in regular-season non-conference games since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 (the only loss came at the hands of Utah State in 2012) … Utah has sold out Rice-Eccles Stadium in 64 consecutive games, dating back to the 2010 season-opener.