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When do you not get everything you want out of a 24-0 win?
When snaps are off-target, and tackles are missed, and pass rushers go unblocked, and quality throws drop to the ground.
Utah experienced all of those moments on Thursday night, but then there were moments like this one in the fourth quarter: Junior quarterback Troy Williams took a snap in the shotgun, loaded up and heaved a pass well downfield to Tim Patrick, who had just shaken his man. Result: a 57-yard touchdown that turned 45,954 fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium wild with delirium.
The Utes had their share of those flashes of brilliance in the shutout win to start the season, and they all but dominated visiting FCS Southern Utah on defense. But in a game in which they never lost control, they never looked quite fully in the driver's seat either an inconsistent performance that, from Kyle Whittingham on down, the Utes (1-0) said they "didn't expect."
For a team that hopes to contend in the Pac-12 and also is playing its signature in-state rivalry game in nine days the victory hinted at better things to come, while still leaving an unsettling feeling that not all is well.
"The degree of difficulty is going to get higher in the ensuing weeks," Whittingham said.
There were yawning stretches of little ball movement for both teams: Three points for Utah in the first quarter, and none in the third. For roughly 22 minutes of the first half, the Utes couldn't build on a 3-0 lead over their down-state neighbors from the Big Sky Conference.
But the end result, in many ways, was extremely satisfying. After initially struggling to keep up with designed wildcat plays and quarterback runs, Utah put a lid on SUU's attack, to the tune of 158 total yards, allowing the same number of first downs (7) as three-and-out drives.
Despite boasting a number of experienced returning receivers, SUU starter McCoy Hill could hardly throw on Utah's defense, with only six completions for 42 yards. Safety Marcus Williams came up with a pair of turnovers, an interception and a forced fumble, that stalled SUU in the first half when it still had a semblance of momentum.
Then there was the Utah offense, which struggled mightily at times, but still finished with 272 yards through the air in Williams' debut as a Ute. While he was pressured out of the pocket on several plays, he also completed 20 for 35 passing with a pair of touchdowns and twice completed passes of more than 50 yards.
His favorite target was Patrick, who torched SUU for 105 yards and two scores (both career-bests), but he also threw multiple passes to five other receivers. When Utah faced third-and-long on several occasions, Williams converted by pinpointing targets along the sideline.
He broke through for his first touchdown a minute before halftime, lofting a pass to Patrick to give Utah a 17-0 lead at the break.
"I just put it in this guy's hands and let him go at it," Williams said afterward, gesturing to Patrick.
But there's a difference between winning and dominating, and those margins were cause for concern.
Whittingham pointed to the offensive line as a weak link. Despite the unit's relative experience, SUU's pass rushers leaked into the pocket to force Williams to scramble and sacked him twice. Utah's control in the run game also was dubious, gaining 138 yards but averaging only 3.7 yards per carry. Troy McCormick shined in multiple facets, with 110 all-purpose yards including a 4-yard touchdown run for Utah's first score in the second quarter.
Snaps were an issue: With J.J. Dielman making his first start at center, Whittingham said Williams had to adjust often to catch it out of the shotgun.
On defense, Whittingham pointed to missed tackles as a problem. SUU's initial drive, with two gashing runs, looked problematic before Marcus Williams forced a fumble on its second play deep in Utah territory.
Still: a shutout, a passing game with big plays and a win. Tough to be too unsatisfied, though there's plenty left to do.
"I don't feel like we were up to our potential today," Marcus Williams said. "Next week, we're going to fix some things, tackle better, and come out blazing."
R Utes hold SUU scoreless and to 158 yards on offense overall.
• Quarterback Troy Williams throws for 272 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions in his first start for the Utes.
• Safety Marcus Williams comes up with a fumble recovery and interception.