What to care most about by way of the Utah-Weber State season-opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday night depended on you, on your mindset, on the lens through which you watched it, on the perspective and appreciation and desperation gained and weathered over the past year-and-a-half.
It could have been the actual action on the field, imperfect though it was. Utah wasn’t quite as dominant as expected. Weber State was better than many figured, making Utah work while also making the Wildcats themselves and their FCS brethren proud.
Or it could have been the basic, foundational aspects surrounding the game … you know, a freshly renovated football building with real-live humans in the seats, with cheers and boos and music and lightning (weather delay) in the air, the smell of brats and burgers on the grill wafting about, the atmosphere and energy channeled not just on the field, but toward the field.
For college football around here, that last part had been a long time coming.
It was delayed a bit further in the first quarter, when a storm only Ben Franklin could have favored blew through.
Thereafter, everything fell into place, in a ragged sort of way.
Who cared about that?
With the dangers of a pandemic lurking still, but the hope that modern medicine had limited it enough via those able and willing to take advantage of vaccinations, a focus on all the rest, the aforementioned action and band music and crowd noise and smells and spirals and blocking and tackling and excitement and electricity — figurative and literal — rather than the ominous transmission of germs, finally returned.
And a sweet return it was.
Yeah, it wasn’t as much the football, rather the opportunity for people to witness the football firsthand at Rice-Eccles, and for those watching on television to feel that crowded, collective enthusiasm beaming straight through their screens.
What was seen?
It was predictable, in large measure. Utah, of the Pac-12, beating Weber, of the Big Sky, by the count of 40-17. It was a decent battle, highlights for Weber State being a long kickoff return for a touchdown the second time the Wildcats touched the ball, and a general competitiveness thereafter.
The game, though, was owned by the Utes.
Charlie Brewer, Utah’s quarterback transfer from Baylor, was busy and good enough. He fired passes in an efficient-if-unspectacular manner, completing 19 of 27 throws, 17 of them coming in the first half. All told, the QB passed for 233 yards. He had two touchdown throws dropped and two caught, with one pick. He played with apparent comfort and ease, with the confidence of a veteran. Cam Rising made an appearance at the end.
The Utes’ run game, established so thoroughly in past seasons, but shrouded at the start of this one, revealed itself to be what it has been, although it was used relatively — by Utah standards — sparingly. In the absence of the departed-but-never-forgotten Ty Jordan, Tavion Thomas stepped in to honor his forerunner by churning for a 107 yards and two TDs, getting 8.9 yards per pop.
If the Utes plan on actualizing Whittingham’s annual pursuit of a more proficient “throw game,” as he always calls it, they didn’t need it against the Weebs. But they unsheathed it, anyway.
The question as to who would catch Brewer’s passes — and Cam Rising’s, too — was divulged in a shared manner, between Dalton Kincaid, Brant Kuithe, Solomon Enis, Britain Covey, and a fistful of other dudes.
As for that Utah staple, the base upon which the Utes have built their reputation through the years for playing tough and downright nasty football, Whittingham’s pride and joy, the defense, was largely in the form that has come to be expected.
The Wildcats found themselves in the predicament so many past Utah opponents have been vexed by — an inability to create space on the ground against the Ute defensive front, gaining a mere 57 yards rushing. They attempted, then, to chuck it around the yard.
The heaving never posed a serious threat.
Weber quarterback Bronson Barron threw for 213 yards.
If that causes Utah coaches consternation, so be it. Details to be cleaned up moving forward.
As the ‘Cats couldn’t throw the ball on every play or run it at all, they couldn’t think of any other way to advance the thing. They did return it, what with Rashid Shaheed’s impressive 100-yard dash early on, just before lightning temporarily stopped the game. And the group that hated that delay the most had to be the players involved in Utah’s third phase, having to face Whittingham’s wrath in the locker room for 90 minutes.
That must have been a joy.
Weber coach Jay Hill, who years ago played and coached at Utah, contributing to its success, has established a strong, notable program in Ogden, an outfit that will continue doing well at the FCS level. It’s enough. It should be enough. That is meant neither to be patronizing, nor a pat on the britches and a tousle of the hair.
Beating the Utes was more of a dream than any realistic part of the plan.
But if Utah is going to schedule a win, book an FCS school, especially as a warmup for the rest of the season, playing Weber is a whole lot more desirable and interesting than lining up against any old Southeast Missouri State or Duquesne or Wofford.
So … play the two locals did.
And that was the best part of Thursday night, delay and all.
They played football, and fans could watch from wherever — the comfort of their lounger in their TV den at home or in the stands, live and wet and wild — what they crave to watch. Normal football. In both cases, they experienced pads popping, offenses executing, some fumbling and bumbling and stumbling, bands playing, the crowd cheering, burgers grilling, enjoying the whole of it.
That’s what’s to care the most about.
College football being played and watched again, with safety and security — storm notwithstanding — in and around the game seemingly evident.
May the football gods — and a single more omnipotent one — let it go on being so for days and weeks and months and years to come.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.