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Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham spoke approvingly of his receivers after last week’s win over Weber State, but the more he studied the group’s performance, the less he liked about it.

“Too many drops, not crisp enough routes. … Some of the drops would have been tough catches, but those are drive-killers,” Whittingham said this week.

That's the position area I'll be watching again Saturday, as the Utes visit Northern Illinois. The nonconference schedule is accelerated this season, with the Utah-BYU game moved to November. So the Utes need a more polished offensive showing this week if they want to build momentum for next week's Pac-12 opener vs. Washington.

The Utes are determined to get off to a better start offensively against NIU. In that context, it should be pointed out that the Huskies trailed Iowa only 3-0 at halftime last weekend in an eventual 33-7 loss. NIU is a solid Group of Five program that’s accustomed to competing with Power Five teams — the Huskies won at Nebraska last year — and won’t be intimidated by Utah. As I’ve been saying all summer, this game won’t resemble the “B” opponent of the past four years, when the Utes had easy games with Fresno State and San Jose State. Having said that, this is a game the Utes should win, and come home feeling good about themselves as they prepare for Washington.

After calculating the results of Week 1 in college football, ESPN's Football Power Index slightly upgraded Utah's forecast to 7.1 wins, with the Utes facing the No. 5-ranked remaining schedule. Utah's schedule should be graded even higher next week, with nine Pac-12 games and BYU ahead.

Stories of the past week

Whittingham’s “Don’t ask me” response to my question about the value of scheduling a game in the Midwest, outside of Utah’s recruiting footprint, got a lot of traction. The most interesting part of my research about Power Five vs. Group of Five matchups this season was the discovery that Utah’s trip to NIU ranks only about No. 3 on the unofficial Weirdness Index this month. (TRIB)

My colleague Christopher Kamrani came through again this week with an insightful story about Ute receiver Solomon Enis. Read the freshman’s quotes; they’re not the standard stuff. (TRIB)

Not having interviewed Ute linebacker Francis Bernard in our former roles, I got a good impression of him this week as he talked about getting back onto the field. He even gave me an Astronomy 101 lesson. (TRIB).

The consolation of a so-so effort from the wide receivers was a breakout performance from Utah’s young tight ends, as Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News quantified. (DNEWS).

The hometown newspaper covering Northern Illinois is the Daily Chronicle, similar to the name of Utah’s campus publication. Here’s a recap of coach Rod Carey’s Tuesday news conference. (CHRON).

And a Ute history installment, in this 125th season of football:

Utes in the NFL

NFL teams made their one, big cut of the preseason last weekend, going from 90 players to 53 on the active roster. Here's the list of the 14 former Utes who made it:

Denver – Garett Bolles; OL; Devontae Booker, RB; Tim Patrick, WR.

Washington – Tony Bergstrom, OL; Alex Smith, QB.

New York Giants – Kaelin Clay, WR.

Chicago – Kylie Fitts, LB.

Buffalo – Star Lotulelei, DL.

Carolina – Jared Norris, LB.

New England – Eric Rowe, DB.

Atlanta – Derrick Shelby, DL.

Los Angeles Chargers – Sam Tevi, OL.

Baltimore – Eric Weddle, DB.

New Orleans – Marcus Williams, DB.

Six ex-Utes were signed to practice squads: Issac Asiata (Miami), Brian Allen (Pittsburgh), Pita Taumoepenu (San Francisco), Pasoni Tasini (Arizona), Dres Anderson (Dallas) and Dominique Hatfield (Los Angeles Rams).

Other sports

We all knew lacrosse was coming to the Utah Athletics menu in 2019, but a season opener Feb. 1 in Salt Lake City? That part surprised me, as the team’s schedule was released this week. The Utes will open against Vermont. Other home games in the inaugural season are Feb. 9 vs. Mercer, March 9 vs. Bellarmine, April 6 vs. Mount St. Mary’s, April 20 vs. Cleveland State and April 27 vs. Detroit Mercy. Visits to national powers Duke and Virginia in March highlight the road schedule.

• Utah’s No. 21-ranked women’s volleyball team went 3-0 in Montana’s tournament last weekend — with 3-0 victories in all three matches. The Utes swept Montana, Gonzaga and Iowa State. Utah (5-1) will continue that scheduling format this weekend, facing Villanova, Temple and High Point in Villanova’s tournament in Philadelphia. Next week, the Utes will visit highly ranked BYU.

• The first Utah-BYU matchup of the 2018-19 school year comes Friday (7 p.m.) in women’s soccer at Ute Field in a game televised by the Pac-12 Networks (Mountain). The Utes (1-2-1) lost 2-1 at Kansas last week via a late goal in the second overtime. Hailey Skolmoski’s goal in the 86th minute had broken a scoreless tie, but the Jayhawks answered quickly to force overtime.