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‘I’ll go to war with this team’: No. 7 Utah disappointed with loss to Florida — but Utes learned a lot about themselves

Utah hosts Southern Utah Saturday in its home-opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

SHARE ‘I’ll go to war with this team’: No. 7 Utah disappointed with loss to Florida — but Utes learned a lot about themselves
Utah players walk off the field

Utah players walk off the field after they and Florida played in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. Florida won 29-26.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

On a sweltering Saturday night at The Swamp, the Florida Gators took a bite out of No. 7 Utah’s College Football Playoff aspirations.

It was a painful 29-26 loss for the Utes, but, of course, the season is just getting started.

Utah (1-0) hosts Southern Utah (11:30 a.m., MDT, Pac-12 Network) Saturday in its home-opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium. 

“I’m proud of our guys. We’ve got to regroup; you’ve got to hold your head up and not feel sorry for yourself,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’ve got a lot of football left, obviously. That’s a ridiculous statement — it’s the first game of the year. It was a gut-wrencher but we came out healthy, which is a positive.”

Whittingham said “without a doubt” he learned more about his team from a narrow setback to a Southeastern Conference team on the road, in a hostile environment that featured more than 90,000 fans, than he could have learned by playing against an FCS opponent in the opener. 

“You can win a game against a lesser opponent but a bunch of things are masked because you’re so superior physically and athletically,” Whittingham said. “It hides itself. A game like this will expose anything that you have to work on and where your deficiencies are. In that regard, I don’t regret playing these guys. It’s a great opportunity for our university and our team … We were excited to play these guys.”

Whittingham added that his team planned to watch film of the loss on the long plane ride home from Gainesville to Salt Lake City. 

Of course, Utah had a shot to beat the Gators. But on second-and-goal from the Florida 6-yard line, quarterback Cam Rising was intercepted in the end zone by Gator linebacker Amari Burney.

“Amari Burney is one of my favorite players. He’s in his sixth year, he’s played like 1,600 snaps here,” said Florida coach Billy Napier, who made his debut as the Gator coach Saturday. “I call him old man… to see that guy make the play. I think that’s a special moment for that locker room.”

Tight end Brant Kuithe said he and his teammates will rally around Rising. 

“We’ve been playing this game forever. People make mistakes. At the end of the day, things happen. We’re out here playing the game,” Kuithe said. “I had a lot of opportunities I could have made and I didn’t. You can’t go back and change that. The only thing you can do is improve. We’ve got to come back Monday and look at the film and see what we can do and go on with the next.”

Safety R.J. Hubert said he’s proud of his team, despite Saturday’s outcome. 

What will he take from this game moving forward? 

“We have guts. I love this team. I’ll go to war with this team. I love our offense,” he said. “It’s difficult as a defense to play a game when the offense is gashing you. Our offense does such a great job of that … I love playing with this offense. I love those guys.”

One of the many reasons Utah scheduled this game with Florida was to enhance the recruiting pipeline in the Sunshine State. Over the years, the Utes have boasted several star players that have hailed from Florida.

Currently, Utah has five players from Florida on the roster, including running backs Chris Curry and Jaylon Glover.

“That played a part in it. We’ve had through the years athletes from Florida. It’s in our footprint. We’ll continue to recruit that area,” Whittingham said earlier this week about scheduling the Gators. “We’ve had a lot of success with those guys — Zack Moss, Tyler Huntley, and guys that have been major contributors for us. It made sense for the series — one of the reasons was recruiting.”

Next year, Utah will have an opportunity to avenge Saturday’s loss as Florida is slated to open the 2023 season at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Southern Utah (1-0) at No. 7 Utah (0-1) 

Saturday, 11:30 a.m. MDT

Rice-Eccles Stadium 

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN 700