This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Amid all of the impressive things quarterback Troy Williams did in his Utah debut Thursday night vs. Southern Utah, this set of numbers will make everyone wonder about his offense between now and next weekend: five minutes, 15 seconds.

That's how much time remained in the Utes' 24-0 victory when Williams turned over the QB duties to backup Tyler Huntley. His exit came much later than anticipated, that's for sure.

The Utes led 3-0 after the first quarter, 17-0 at halftime … and 17-0 after three quarters.

Good enough, in the end? Not according to the Utes, which is precisely how they should have responded in postgame interviews.

"It wasn't what I expected," said coach Kyle Whittingham.

"We should have done way better," said Tim Patrick, who caught two touchdown passes.

That's the issue with these games matching a Pac-12 school vs. a Big Sky Conference opponent. Some kind of sliding scale always comes into play. Exactly how dominant do the Big Boys have to be for the exercise to be considered a success?

Let's just say a 17-0 lead with 10 minutes left is not quite what anyone pictured when SUU came to Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time. Williams then hit Patrick for an easy 57-yard touchdown and this opener became somewhat more acceptable for the Utes, but certainly not satisfying.

Southern Utah deserved more respect than a No. 7 preseason pick in the Big Sky as the defending champion, even after losing an outstanding quarterback and sending three defensive players to the NFL. But a team in the Pac-12 South's top tier should have handled the T-birds more easily — considering division rivals USC and UCLA will never play FCS opponents.

Like I've been saying all along, if the Utes could ever develop any kind of running game, this program might amount to something.

Eventually, talent took over in this game. It usually does — although not always, with Big Sky teams having staged four upsets of the Pac-12 in the previous five seasons. Sometime in September, one of those schools may threaten for longer than the T-birds did Thursday.

Utah's biggest surprise was not so much that Williams fired the ball around the field and his receivers usually caught it, but that the Utes struggled to anything going on the ground with 61 yards in the first half and 127 yards for the game, behind supposedly one of the Pac-12's best offensive lines.

What unfolded in this game has to be disconcerting in the post-Devontae Booker era, even after Joe Williams showed good signs after Booker was injured last November. His fumble in the third quarter ended what looked like a 97-yard drive in the making.

So here's what we discovered about the Utes in this opener: Joe, not Troy, is the Williams we should have been wondering about in August. Marcus Williams, who intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble, already is an All-Pac-12 defensive back. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky, another Australian, is a surprisingly adequate replacement for Tom Hackett, judging by his 55.5-yard average. And with the disclaimer of facing a backup quarterback for much of the night, the Ute defense played solidly by allowing 158 total yards.

As of early in the fourth quarter, Troy Williams had completed 19 of 31 passes for 215 yards. In last September's opener vs. Michigan, Travis Wilson went 24 of 33 for 210 yards. Thanks to that TD connection on his second-to-last series, Williams ended with 272 yards Thursday. Next week vs. BYU, the Utes may need all of that production and more.

As for the defense, when one question sounded almost like a critique, Marcus Williams answered good-naturedly, "They didn't score, so …"

Like much the Utes' season-opening performance, the sentence went unfinished.

Twitter: @tribkurt

comments powered by Disqus