This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
There was celebration in the Utah locker room on Saturday night, but it's worth betting the party won't continue through film study.
Fresh off a 20-19 win over BYU, the in-state rival Utah has now beaten six straight times, a sobering reality will sink in as the Utes prepare for San Jose State: The offense, as ever, has a long way to go.
Even moments after emptying water bottles with his teammates during a rousing rendition of "Utah Man," that awareness seemed to be settling over Utah junior quarterback Troy Williams, who threw three interceptions in victory.
"I was just struggling, just one of those games honestly," he said. "It just wasn't going my way tonight."
For the first time since 2013, the Utes coughed up six turnovers in a game enough to drive them to minus-1 in the season turnover margin, one of coach Kyle Whittingham's all-important statistics.
After a pick-less debut against SUU, the learning curve rushed to meet Williams with vengeance, as he tossed a pair of interceptions to Kai Nacua before halftime. The second saw Williams narrowly escape a sack and buy time, only to zip a pass into a tightly covered patch of the end zone.
While Whittingham was willing to overlook the third interception a leaping, athletic grab from BYU's Francis Bernard the first two, to him, spoke of a quarterback still in need of seasoning at the Division I level. The 194-yard, one touchdown performance showed how far remains for him to come.
"Troy's still learning," Whittingham said. "He's got some things to learn. You can't put the ball particularly in the red zone in that kind of traffic. If we don't turn it over six times, it's a whole different game."
Quarterback was far from Utah's only concern, and not even necessarily the biggest one.
Utah caught a severe case of the fumbles, finishing with six and losing three. Joe Williams, Raelon Singleton and Boobie Hobbs (on a punt return) all lost the football, and others, including Troy McCormick and Troy Williams, bobbled or dropped the ball to recover it in the end.
Between fumbles and picks, four of Utah's first five offensive drives ended in turnovers. The problem left Whittingham visibly frustrated on the sideline and baffled after the game. He said the Utes practice strip drills often, but probably not as often as they will in the coming week.
Whittingham cited a stronger effort for the offensive line, which helped roll up 169 rushing yards. But false starts and holding drove them back as well, with penalties overall totaling nine for 85 yards (BYU had the Utes beat with 112 yards of penalties thanks to the targeting ejections).
What made the coaching staff all the more frustrated were the persistent signs that Utah's offense can succeed if only it can take care of the football. Williams had only 14 completions, but had four passes of 15 yards or more, including his touchdown to Tim Patrick (the third hookup between the duo this season). The running back shuffle was three-card monte with Joe Williams, McCormick and Zack Moss, with each of the trio getting between 10 and 12 carries, but they each found a measure of success.
A good deal of that effectiveness came on Utah's final meaningful possession: a 78-yard drive that ate up 11-and-a-half minutes over the course of a whopping 19 plays. That included 12 runs, in which Moss and Williams ground down BYU's front. If he hadn't consulted an analytics guide on 4th-and-1 on the BYU 7 yard line, Whittingham might've well gone for a game-clinching first down and touchdown instead of the game-winning field goal.
That drive encapsulated what Whittingham envisions his offense becoming.
"The drive we ended up kicking the field goal that's who we can be and need to be," he said. "That smashmouth, down-your-throat football."
While that identity may seem at odds with fall camp promises of more vertical threats, the give-and-take between the payoff and risk of a high-octane passing game has always been at the crux of Utah's struggles on offense in recent seasons.
If Utah continues to risk turnovers on offense like it did Saturday, it may not be lucky enough to celebrate a win next time.
Utah at San Jose State
P Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • CBSSN
Utah's offensive efficiency
The Utes moved the ball on Saturday against BYU, but gave it away as well:
• Six total turnovers, including three interceptions and three fumbles (one on a punt return)
• Troy Williams goes 14 for 23 with 194 yards and a touchdown with the three picks
• Utah's run game improves to 169 yards on 42 carries, but no rushing scores
• Nine total penalties for 85 yards, with seven penalties on offense