SALT LAKE CITY — Bittersweet is how Utah coach Kyle Whittingham described his Thursday night. He certainly wasn’t going to complain about a 24-0 shutout of Southern Utah, but the win certainly wasn’t as pretty as the 12th-year coach hoped for against the FCS program.
“The degree of difficulty is going to get higher in the ensuing weeks,” Whittingham said. “That’s why we’re kind of bittersweet because we know that performance won’t be good enough down the road. We’ve got to get better.”
Troy Williams threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns as fans got their first glimpse of the revamped Utah offense, which included a new full-time starter at quarterback for the first time since 2012. The Utes have new starters at every offensive skill position.
“It was a little rocky in the first half, but we started to get in a rhythm,” Troy Williams said. “Just first game jitters, that is all that was. Especially for me. Then I started to get comfortable and went out there and executed and came out of there with a win.
“I just put it in (my teammates’) hands and they made it happen.”
Williams showed why there is optimism throughout the program for the Santa Monica College transfer that originally signed with Washington as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. He put zip on the ball on several out routes and kept his eyes downfield while scrambling. Williams also recognized a mismatch on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Tim Patrick, who used his 6-foot-5 frame to box out 6-0 cornerback Jarmaine Doubs to take a 17-0 lead just before halftime.
The Utah defense smothered its FCS opponent like it was supposed to and held Southern Utah to just 158 offensive yards. Safety Marcus Williams shined with an interception, a fumble forced and a fumble recovery.
“I don’t feel like we were up to our potential today,” Marcus Williams said. “But next week we’re going to fix some things, tackle better and we’re going to come out blazing.”
SOUTHERN UTAH: The Thunderbirds didn’t just roll over despite just not having the athletes to match up with Utah. It was difficult to create much offense against a Utah defense that should be one of the best in the Pac-12. Quarterback McCoy Hill flashed some with his arm and legs despite missing time in the second quarter with an injury.
“Just proud of the guys,” Southern Utah coach Demario Warren said. “They fought the whole game and never gave up. We made some mistakes. I wish we could have had a couple of plays back and hopefully change that game.
“But they’re a great football team and you can’t make that many mistakes in a game and expect to win. … I was definitely disappointed in the outcome and some of the mistakes we made.”
UTAH: A rout was expected, but there were plenty of nerves in the stands when Utah led just 3-0 late in the second quarter. The run game was nonexistent in the first half and the offensive line was far from dominant for a unit with four returning starters and a junior college All-American at left tackle.
“Wasn’t exactly what I expected,” Whittingham said. “We never really were not in control of the game, but we never really had complete control of the game. It was tougher to score than I anticipated it would be. Credit them — they’re a good football team.
“If we’re going to win next week, we’ve got to get better. There’s no doubt about that.”
“Utah has such a good defense,” Warren said. “You can’t block up front too long with those guys coming at you. So then you try and keep the passing game short. But they’ve some really good DBs that stick to those shorter routes. Then you try and go long and No. 20 (Williams) is flying around from sideline to sideline making a ton of plays.”
Utah debuted its brand new high-definition scoreboard on Thursday. The $13.5 million project includes the 122-foot wide, 64-foot tall board that contains 2.6 million pixels. The digital surround sound blares from 130 speakers around the stadium.
SOUTHERN UTAH: The Thunderbirds now turn their attention to the FCS schedule with Southeast Louisiana traveling to Cedar City, Utah on Sept. 10. The two programs last played in 2014 with the Lions winning 41-14.
UTAH: The Utes host their lone true rival next week — BYU. There were grumbles from both sets of fans when the two programs didn’t play in the regular season in 2014 or 2015. The Beehive State football deities corrected that with a 2015 Las Vegas Bowl showdown in which Utah jumped out to a 35-0 first-quarter lead and held on for a 35-28 victory.