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To Troy Williams, it was as if Cory Butler-Byrd missed no time at all.
The senior receiver was one of Williams' go-to targets in Utah's 34-17 victory over San Jose State on Saturday night, catching five passes for 66 yards. And make no mistake: Williams wanted Butler-Byrd to get plenty of touches in his season debut.
"He talked to the team the night before," Williams said. "We all got the feeling and the vibe that he was ready to go out there and play. I just wanted to get it out there to him, you know, get his groove going whether he was covered or not."
Butler-Byrd looked fresh despite missing Utah's first two games due to suspension, his team discipline for his off-field charge of misdemeanor criminal mischief from a July incident.
Utah athletics has said it intends to close off Butler-Byrd to media access this season, but Williams was more than happy to speak for his teammate. Butler-Byrd's emergence as a secondary threat to Tim Patrick could prove to be a key development for Utah's passing game.
"Just another guy out there you've got to respect and keep an eye on at all times, especially when he gets the ball in his hands," Williams said. "He's a big playmaker, he's fast. He'll go down the field and catch the deep ball. He'll take a bubble for 80 if you let him."
Butler-Byrd rejoined the team a week before the season opener after his court case resolved, but only as a scout team player. Teammates said he attacked his duties with relish, and if he was disappointed to not be playing, he didn't show it on the practice field.
"No matter what position he's in, he loves the game of football, and he loves to go out there and play," Williams said. "He didn't tank, he didn't say 'Forget everybody' or anything like that. He was out there in scout team and gave it his all every day."
Utah's Monday depth chart featured Butler-Byrd as the starting slot receiver with Kyle Fulks backing him up. He's also now the No. 1 kick returner, although San Jose State's touchbacks robbed him of opportunity there.
Utah still is tinkering with the outside receiver opposite Patrick, starting Raelon Singleton and Saiosi Wilson in recent weeks. Sophomore Tyrone Smith didn't play at San Jose, and Whittingham wouldn't comment on injuries this week. As Utah continues to look for a consistent passing game, Butler-Byrd's start is encouraging to his coach.
"I thought for the limited time he had to prepare and get ready, he made an impact and did some good things," he said. "He's going to be a big part of the game plan every week going forward."
Wishnowsky is No. 1 in punt average
The one arena where sophomore punter Mitch Wishnowsky is not ready to replace Tom Hackett is in the media scrum. Said the Aussie: "I'm not gonna try to follow Tom in that sort of stuff. I reckon that would be like I'm trying to be funny. Tommy's just naturally a funny bloke, so I think I'll leave that to Tom still."
Everywhere else so far, Wishnowsky measures up.
The 24-year-old is leading the nation in punt average (52.6 yards) and net punting average (48.2 yards). Against San Jose State, Wishnowsky's line-drive punt in the first quarter resulted in a fumble that Utah's Jason Thompson recovered.
The Utes are facing an elite returner in USC's Adoree Jackson this week. The U.S. Olympic Trials sprinter already burned Utah State for a touchdown on a punt return this season. Wishnowsky said his key isn't to kick away from Jackson, but aim for hangtime.
"Just try to get it up in the air so the coverage gets down there and he's forced to fair catch it," he said. "It's just about putting it high enough so the boys can get down there.
Whittingham said Utah's defense is preparing for both junior quarterback Max Browne and freshman passer Sam Darnold. USC coach Clay Helton announced Monday evening that Darnold will start against Utah. Both have gotten playing time in the last two games. … Utah cornerback Dominique Hatfield and receiver Tyrone Smith were both suited up in practice on Monday afternoon after missing starts against San Jose State. Whittingham declined to discuss whether either player would be ready to start against USC.
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