This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
As Utah prepares for its second game of the season, there might not be anyone fighting for his starting job quite like Joe Williams.
The senior running back played well enough in camp to be named the clear No. 1 back against Southern Utah. But in the game itself, the separation wasn't so clear: Williams had 49 yards on 12 carries with a fumble, Utah's only turnover.
His backup, junior Troy McCormick, shined with 110 all-purpose yards, including a rushing touchdown, and No. 3 back Armand Shyne "ran hard" according to Kyle Whittingham.
So where does that leave Williams? As of this week, on uncertain ground. Whittingham said at his Monday press conference: "We'll give the other guys turns." That likely includes McCormick, Shyne and possibly freshman back Zack Moss, who missed the season opener with an unspecified injury.
Williams, who rushed for more than 100 yards in two of the three games he started last year, said after Monday's practice that he's looking for a second chance.
"I've just got to do better," he said. "Can't change it, it's behind me now. I'm going to be a different player come Saturday. Just my focus and killer mentality. I'm going to pick that up this week and try to bring it to the table."
The greatest concern for Williams is ball security: Going back to last season, he's had three fumbles in his last four games.
It was an issue he supposedly worked on in the offseason, but now the fumbling problem has zoomed back into the forefront for him. Coaches and graduate assistants are now attempting to rip the ball from his hands from start to finish of practice, getting him to concentrate on holding on.
If he can keep his hands on the ball, he might also keep a grip on his starting job as well.
"Just focusing on high and tight," he said. "I'm trying to not have the ball hit by a lineman or defender, anything to prevent it from this week on for the rest of the season."
Rivalry crash course
Some of Utah's newcomers are just getting a footing on what the rivalry means with BYU, even starters like quarterback Troy Williams.
"I don't know why they hate each other so much," he said, laughing. "But I'm with it now. I'm here, I'm a part of the hatred. I gotta go out and represent for our state."
Williams said he's spoken with many in-state players to get a sense of what it will be like to take the field Saturday for the 97th meeting (or 91st depending on which school you ask) of the two teams.
Sophomore linebacker Cody Barton has been just one of the people happy to fill Williams in. His parents were both multi-sport athletes at Utah, so he grew up steeped in Utes fandom. He has pictures of himself in his room from Utah-BYU games past, face painted red.
"They're told by some of the coaches, but I was explaining to them the in-state guys know how big this game is," Barton said. "Growing up, we were huge Utah fans. We wanted to play here one day. Here we are."
Some of those who are newer to the rivalry got a taste for it last year. Joe Williams said that the importance of the game has been hammered in through experience, but also through the dialogue in the locker room.
"Coach Whitt harps on 'We don't lose to these guys,' " Williams said. "We take them entirely seriously. We're going to be focused for this game because they're our rivals. The bowl game was my first time playing them. I'm 1-0 now, and I'm looking to be 2-0 this Saturday."
New punter, same honor
Not a bad first week on the job for sophomore Mitch Wishnowsky.
In his Utah debut, the Australian beat Tom Hackett's single-game record with a 55.5 net punting average. While there's at least 11 more to go, it was enough for Wishnowsky to be honored as the Pac-12 special teams player of the week and the Ray Guy punter of the week.
Utah is the defending two-time winner of the Ray Guy award, thanks to Hackett also a consensus All-American in 2014 and 2015. There's a long way to go to get Utah a third straight, but Wishnowsky couldn't ask for a better start.
Poll position stagnant
The Utes didn't gain any ground in the major college football polls despite many surprises during opening weekend.
After starting third in "others receiving votes" in the AP poll, Utah moved back one spot with 45 points in the tally. The Utes were third in "others receiving votes" in the USA Today Coaches poll compared to future opponent BYU sitting at 10th and 9th, respectively, in the polls.
Other teams in the Pac-12 fared better, particularly Washington, which is ranked 8th its highest position since 2001 in the AP poll this week. Stanford leads all Pac-12 teams at No. 7, while Oregon held steady at No. 24. Both USC and UCLA, which took losses on Saturday, tumbled out of the poll.