Knowing they will begin Pac-12 play Friday at Arizona, the Utah Utes went into Saturday night’s game vs. San Jose State needing to solve some offensive issues.

They were hoping to hang onto the football, finish more drives with touchdowns and get some rushing production from their actual running backs.

Utah succeeded, partially. That’s the summary of what could only be described as an unsatisfying 54-16 rout of the lowly Spartans at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“Right now, we’re just itching to play a Pac-12 team,” said Ute defensive end Bradlee Anae.

The Utah defense’s disruption, Matt Gay’s field-goal kicking, Mitch Wishnowsky’s wrong-footed punting, Boobie Hobbs’ punt returning and Darren Carrington’s receiving gave the Utes’ nonconference finale some redeeming value. So did an offense that posted 30 points and 282 total yards in the first half, but remained stuck on 30 until late in the third quarter.

Ute coach Kyle Whittingham spoke of “a lot of progress,” while acknowledging the running game “could be better” and the offense had “some lulls during the course of the game.”

Whittingham added, “My feeling is you’re going to see continued improvement and continued production.”

The Utes managed to leave their consumers wanting more, which they have a tendency to do in September. Should everybody be worried about these guys? Not necessarily.

This history lesson should be helpful: In 2015, the Utes were less than overwhelming in beating a lousy Fresno State team, but destroyed Oregon in their Pac-12 opener. Same story last year, when they defeated San Jose State 34-17 and then beat USC to launch conference play.

So a game like Saturday’s is both the blessing and the curse of Utah’s philosophy. The “B” game of the Utes’ nonconference schedule is designed as a win. The Utes were not going to lose to San Jose State, even when they lost three turnovers in the first half, failed to score touchdowns on two trips inside the Spartans’ 5-yard line and never got running back Zach Moss going in an effort to complement quarterback Tyler Huntley’s running.

That stuff might matter in the coming weeks, but not Saturday.

Texas may have set an impossible standard for the Utes by posting 623 yards and 56 points against San Jose State last weekend. In a sense, the lower degree of difficulty created some pressure for the Utah offense, which needed a breakout game after recording 430 yards but only 19 points in a win over BYU.

“We can’t be overlooking anybody or be satisfied,” Ute receivers coach Guy Holliday said after Tuesday’s practice. “We haven’t played well on offense, to our potential yet.”

That presumably remains true, even after the Utes topped 500 yards and scored 54 points — thanks mostly to Huntley’s 341 passing yards and four TDs.

“We started catching a rhythm, started fixing our mistakes,” Huntley said.

Carrington, who played with Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota as an Oregon freshman receiver in 2014, said Huntley “reminds me of a quarterback I had in the past, a young version of him.”

Carrington caught nine passes (including three touchdowns) to give him 26 receptions in three games. By halftime, he had gone over 100 yards for his third straight game as a Ute. Where would Utah’s offense be without him? Good question, although the answer is irrelevant in 2017. He’s here. As for developing other receiving threats, the Utes got a nice effort from Samson Nacua — aside from his second-quarter fumble into the end zone after making a catch.

Nacua caught seven passes, evidence of how Carrington has elevated the receiving corps as a graduate transfer who was dismissed from Oregon’s program in July. The other players are trying to keep up with him.

“When you’re relaxed, when you don’t feel like you’re threatened, then you’re not getting any better,” Holliday said. “Every one of these guys feels threatened.”

So the Utes are 24-1 against nonconference opponents, counting four bowl victories, in the program’s Pac-12 era. They might be unbeaten, if not for an offensive pass-interference penalty in overtime at Utah State in 2012.

Utah’s September success is partly attributable to careful scheduling, with Pittsburgh (2011) and Michigan (2014, ’15) as the only Power Five opponents in the regular season, plus Georgia Tech and Indiana in middle-tier bowl games. The Utes are not booked to meet another Power Five school until 2023 vs. Baylor.

Until then, athletic director Chris Hill and coach Kyle Whittingham will stick with the formula of a Big Sky Conference team, BYU and a Group of Five program. I can endorse that philosophy, as long as it helps Utah compete in the Pac-12. The Utes’ nonconference schedule probably will never be the league’s weakest, anyway.

And next year’s schedule of Weber State, Northern Illinois and BYU should be a slight upgrade, judging by NIU’s upset of Nebraska.