One week after suffering a heartbreaking, last-minute loss to the Florida Gators at The Swamp, which was immediately followed by a maddening, longer-than-expected return to campus from Gainesville due to mechanical issues with the airplane, No. 13 Utah entered Saturday’s home-opener looking to take out its frustrations on in-state opponent Southern Utah. 

And, predictably, that’s exactly what happened on a sun-drenched day at Rice-Eccles Stadium. 

Utah, 45-point favorites, exploded for 38 second-quarter points and feasted on the Thunderbirds, 73-7.

And it probably could have been inordinately more lopsided than what turned out to be in one of the highest-scoring games for Utah in the modern era of its history. 

It marked the most points the Utes had scored since beating Weber State 70-7 in 2013. Utah scored 82 points against UTEP in 1973. 

The Utes (1-1) didn’t have a perfect day, but it was more than good enough for their first victory of the season. 

“Obviously, we did a lot of good things. We expected to win the football game. That’s a given. You don’t always do what you’re supposed to do,” said coach Kyle Whittingham.

“Things don’t always go the way they’re supposed to go. It was good to see our guys perform efficiently, making a lot of plays on both sides of the ball.”

Quarterback Cam Rising completed 17 of 23 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns in one half of work. Many of the starters took the rest of the day off after a dominating first-half performance.

Tight end Dalton Kincaid enjoyed an impressive performance in limited action, catching seven passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns.

“Opportunities came my way,” Kincaid said. “I was just trying to make the most of them.”

Chris Curry led Utah in rushing with 60 yards on six carries and a touchdown. 

Meanwhile, the Ute defense forced two turnovers, which resulted in a touchdown and set up another. 

Utah rolled up 599 yards of total offense while limiting the T-Birds to a mere 85. 

For the Utes, the mindset was to control every aspect of the game. 

“Just come out and dominate. Do everything you can,” Rising said. “We’ve been putting in the work. We needed to make sure we were handling our business.”

SUU (1-1) started aggressively, trying to surprise the Utes on the opening kickoff with an onside kick that the T-birds recovered. 

However, the officials whistled SUU for illegal touching — one of its players put a hand on the ball before it traveled 10 yards — and Utah’s offense set up shop for the first time at the SUU 44-yard line.

Eight plays later, the Utes jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a short drive, highlighted by a 14-yard catch-and-hurdle by Kincaid, and capped by a 13-yard touchdown run by Tavion Thomas. 

“It was a pretty athletic move,” Whittingham said of Kincaid’s leap over a defender. “I was pretty impressed by it. He’s a tremendous athlete. If you’re talking about who’s the best pure athlete on the team, he’s in that argument.”

“I don’t know if I’ll ever do that again,” Kincaid said. “I didn’t know if I’d get over him. But it worked out.”

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Later in the period, Thomas fumbled in Ute territory, giving the Thunderbirds the ball at the Utah 28. On first down, Grady Robinson took the snap and rambled to the goal line and dove into the end zone to tie the game at 7-apiece at the 2:22 mark of the first quarter.

But SUU’s momentum was short-lived. From there, the Utes outscored the T-Birds 66-0.

“Other than the 3-5 minute stretch in the first quarter when we bogged down a little bit, it was clean and efficient and good stuff,” Whittingham said. “We turned the ball over during that stretch, which was a negative. We just weren’t in sync for a few minutes there and then we got back in sync. It was really good to see the offense execute those two two-minute drills at the end of the first half. We scored on both of them. That was good.”

“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Rising said of that first-quarter lull. “But we didn’t flinch.”

Early in the second quarter, in a little more than a minute of game time, Utah scored a pair of touchdowns. First, Thomas scored on a seven-yard scoring run. Then on SUU’s ensuing drive, Ute defensive lineman Junior Tafuna picked off a pass that was tipped by Miki Suguturaga. 

“I saw it hanging in the air and I saw him coming and I didn’t think he’d get there. There’s no way,” Whittingham said of that interception. “Then he hit the gas pedal and did a really nice maneuver where he turned sideways and scooped it. It was very athletic.”

A couple of plays later, Curry scored his first career touchdown at Utah to propel the Utes to a 21-7 edge with 13:27 left in the second quarter.

Utah increased its lead on a 27-yard field goal by Jadon Redding; a 12-yard touchdown catch by Brant Kuithe; and a 37-yard TD reception; and a 12-yard TD catch by Kincaid.  

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That made it Utah 45, SUU 7 at halftime. 

Early in the third quarter, Utah struck again as safety R.J. Hubert intercepted SUU quarterback Justin Miller and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown and the Utes built a 52-7 advantage with 13:53 left in the third quarter. 

From there, Utah added three more touchdowns. 

But, of course, Whittingham won’t let his team get complacent. 

“We’ve got to get better if we want to get to where we want to ultimately end up. We’ve got to keep improving,” Whittingham said. “Don’t be misled by the lopsidedness of the game because we still have plenty of things to fix. Southern Utah played hard. They’re well-coached. They play hard. There was just a talent difference. That’s the bottom line.”

Utah hosts San Diego State next Saturday (8 p.m.) on ESPN2. 

EXTRA POINTS: Rising surpassed the 3,000-yard passing plateau for his career … At halftime, the 2022 Utah Athletics Hall of Fame class was recognized — former Ute football players Eric Weddle and Chris Kemoeatu; basketball player Mitch Smith; swimmer Heidi Hausknecht; gymnast Melissa Vituj; track and field athlete Carla Pittelkow; skier Christl Hager; and women’s basketball player Shona Thorburn.