This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Troy Williams stood on the sideline, having partially answered the biggest question of Utah football's offseason: Do the Utes have a competent quarterback?
Yes. Yes they do.
And if the answer to that question had been no, no they do not, they may have been embarrassed or just squeaked by in Thursday night's season opener at Rice-Eccles. As it was, Williams completed 20 of 35 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns, sparking enough offense to beat Southern Utah, 24-0. A 57-yard TD pass from Williams to Tim Patrick finished off the Thunderbirds three minutes into the fourth quarter.
"Troy did some good things," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in the aftermath. "… He handled himself pretty well."
Early offensive conclusions as they pertain to the Utes go like this:
• Quarterback … will … not … be … the … core … of … their … problem.
• Running … the … football … might … be.
When was the last time those sentences could be written?
It's been a minute, been an hour, been a bunch of hours, been forever.
They can be written now, at least in pencil. As mentioned, if the first one couldn't have been written, the Utes would have won this game by maybe a single touchdown. The fact that Utah was playing a team picked to finish seventh in the Big Sky encouraged no crimson soul.
On account of that, Whittingham called the victory "bittersweet."
"We got a win," he said. "It wasn't what I expected."
He added what was painfully obvious: "We didn't run the ball as effectively as we should have. Not good enough."
On the other hand, everybody on this night including Whittingham was looking for some sort of notable presence under center, a presence that not only could read the defense, firmly set his feet and fire away, but who could do it without giving his head coach a heart attack, inspiring instead more opportunity. All of that, except for the cardiac arrest, happened enough.
The pre-kick talk from Whittingham, then, about the importance of throwing the ball more, and, on the other side, the pontificating from the outside about his reluctance to take unneeded chances by, you know, actually utilizing the ticking time bomb that is the forward pass, settled into a more enlightened approach now.
Utah started the game by unabashedly putting that throw into its throw game, all of which netted the Utes three points in the opening minutes, set up by a 52-yard pass from Williams to Raelon Singleton. It was an initial signal of what was still coming. On their second drive, they threw and threw again, but all that was wasted in the red zone by a missed Andy Phillips field goal, caused by a bad snap. After that, Utah settled in, taking a 17-zip halftime lead.
The second half was a rougher go. Until the Williams-to-Patrick long-distance call, elements of the offensive effort were, well, what Whittingham said.
Optimists would say they were, outside of Williams, seriously flawed.
Pessimists would say everybody panic.
Even as those promising evidences could be seen in the pass game, small details penalties and missed blocking assignments and a lack of steady production on the ground caused disruptions, disconnections and difficulties. In the first half, for instance, Utah had 61 rushing yards, 21 of which came from QB Williams. That wouldn't have been acceptable had the Utes been playing Southern Cal, let alone Southern Utah.
As welcome as the 175 first-half yards through the air were, along with 298 for the game, the rushing failures were inexplicable and just … weird. In a comparative sense, it was like watching a golfer who typically can't drive the ball well, but putts lights out, enough to win a lot of tournaments, work and work and work on his long game, and, suddenly, he bombs drives down the fairway and misses everything on the short grass.
The Utes will have to get that addressed.
Still, the job got done.
The Utes are 1-0 and the mighty defense held the Thunderbirds to a mere 158 yards. Southern Utah couldn't move the ball or, for that matter, come close to scoring any points. And maybe the offense was disinclined to unveil more than it needed to with BYU coaches and players next week's opponents dialed in on the game.
One more conclusion: Playing SUU turned out to be a blessing for the Utes. They could knock off some rough edges, pay some cash to a mostly cooperative opponent, get a victory that, despite the flaws, was pretty much automatic, and grab onto a cliché that a team's biggest improvement comes between Game 1 and Game 2.
As Whittingham said it: "The degree of difficulty is going to get a lot higher."
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.