"We won't win a game in the Pac-12 if we play like this the rest of the way," he said.
It was a win, but a setback all the same. If Utah's new offense can't find its rhythm against the Bobcats who hail from the Big Sky Conference, what will it do against USC?
Luckily for the Utes they have a few extra days to try to correct their mistakes, of which there were many.
Utah had trouble with its tempo, quarterback Jordan Wynn and the passing game managed just 101 yards, the Utes were penalized seven times for 65 yards and Utah was just 4 of 13 on third-down conversions.
The bright spots were the defense, led by Brian Blechen's two interceptions, and a running game that produced 191 yards. John White rushed 19 times for 150 yards and a touchdown in his first start as a Ute.
But even the productive newcomer understood it was a less-than-satisfactory victory, noting the Utes needed to do a better job of finishing, a thought that was shared by all, especially Wynn.
"We started off good, but we've got to finish," said Wynn, after throwing 15-for-23 for 101 yards and two touchdowns. "I don't know what it was we lost our rhythm and we have to play better. The defense played lights out and got us good field position, and they were doing their part. We have to pick up ours."
The defense gave the offense a chance to save face after going 3-and-out on the first series when Blechen intercepted a pass by DeNarius McGhee and returned it 39 yards to Montana State's 9-yard line.
As he was being tackled, Blechen tried to pitch the ball back to teammate Ryan Lacy, who didn't catch the ball but was lucky enough to recover it when it bounced on the turf.
Two plays later, Wynn connected with DeVonte Christopher for a 7-yard touchdown pass.
That score was the jump-start the Utes needed, as they scored on their next three possessions, taking a 24-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.
But thoughts of a Utah blowout never came to fruition, as the Utes' only score in the second half was a 44-yard field goal by walk-on kicker Coleman Petersen.
The Utes punted on their three other second-half possessions and were outgained 139 to 119 in total offense by the Bobcats.
"We have to be a lot cleaner on the offensive side of the ball," Wynn said. "I don't discredit them they are tough, but it's USC now, so we can't play like that and expect to win."
The Utes planned to watch film of Thursday's game on Friday, then take the weekend off before practicing on Labor Day.
By all indications, the Utes will be putting in a lot of blue-collar work on the holiday.
Whittingham, who called the offensive showing "abysmal," acknowledged the Utes have a lot of shortcomings that must be improved before they face the Trojans.
"Overall, if we want to win a few more games this year, we better clean up a lot of things," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do between now and next Saturday when we play Southern Cal."
R In short • The Utes get a win but it isn't as convincing as they wanted thanks to a second half that sees Utah's offense produce just one score, a 44-yard field goal.
Key moment • Linebacker Brian Blechen sets up Utah's first score with an interception during the first quarter.