TribUte newsletter: Mother Nature tried and failed to overtake Utah football

Plus: Do the Utes have “the best-kept secret in the Pac-12″? Kyle Whittingham thinks so.

(Rick Bowmer | AP) A spectator, right, is dragged down after he ran onto the field during a rain delay during the first half of an NCAA college football game between Weber State and Utah on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Mother Nature is a buzz kill, that’s what she is.

Imagine this. A 22-month wait for a full college football season with fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium after the COVID-19 pandemic gave us a five-game season with no fans in any Pac-12 stadium.

Take that, plus the normal buildup to a football season, and people were very much excited Thursday night for Utah-Weber State. Count me, your friendly neighborhood Salt Lake Tribune beat writer, who dealt with his own journalism suffering without the normalcy of a football season.

A Jadon Redding 25-yard field goal to open the scoring, Rashid Shaheed answered with a 100-yard kickoff to give the Wildcats a 7-3 lead, and then, with 8:26 left in the season’s opening quarter, lightning. Lots and lots of lightning.

The best part of this was that it marked the second straight non-COVID opener the Utes have had delayed by lightning. In 2019, the opener at BYU suffered a 54-minute delay in the fourth quarter of a 30-12 Utes win.

Under NCAA rules, if a lightning strike occurs within eight miles of a game site, it means a 30-minute delay. Each new lightning strike restarts the clock. On Thursday night, we wound up with a 90-minute lightning delay, and when you’ve been waiting this long for some normalcy, 90 minutes feels interminable.

I twiddled my thumbs, I watched a kid run across the field and get tackled by security, which was awesome. I tried to decide how to start this newsletter, I checked in on Ohio State-Minnesota (CJ Stroud will be fine). I kept trying to decide how to start this newsletter.

Then, daylight. A full rainbow, the sun fighting to show itself from behind the clouds. At 7:18 p.m., with the Utes doing their best to turn the collective hair of the fan base gray after less than half of the first quarter, college football came back, again.

Mother Nature wasn’t going to hold us back any longer, though, as hard as she tried. Not after we’ve been through so much, not after 22 months of waiting for normal college football, not after this game had already started.

College football is finally back.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• Kyle Whittingham on Thursday evening called Dalton Kincaid “the best-kept secret in the Pac-12.” Tough to argue that after Kincaid had four catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Utah’s tight ends room is pretty stacked.

• Whittingham, in venting over mistakes made in the win over Weber State, stopped himself from saying the s-word. It was awesome.

• Charlie Brewer appears to be lightening up and willing to talk a little more when he meets the media. Good. It’s always better when the quarterback is willing to offer more, not to mention the fact Brewer is smart and well-spoken.

• Devin Lloyd: Good at linebacking.

• There is a growing notion, especially after UCLA blew out Hawaii in Week Zero, that the Pac-12 South is going to be very deep. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but the division potentially being very deep is different from the division being very competitive. A week after that Bruins win, I think the South is more likely to be very competitive than very deep.

• Here’s a thing I find interesting that isn’t getting much play: Jaxon Kohler is a 6-foot-9 Utah native, and a top-70 recruit from the class of 2022 who began his career at Wasatch Academy and American Fork High School. He has received minimal, if any real interest from the University of Utah, let alone an offer. This isn’t to say I don’t understand why this new Craig Smith-led staff is choosing to pass, because I get it (More on that later). I just find it interesting, because this kid will go high-major. When I say high-major, let me be clear. Michigan State has offered, Kansas has offered. Yeah, that level of a high-major program is involved. For what it’s worth, I have every reason to believe Kohler would have played for Larry Krystkowiak. The previous staff offered before Kohler was even in high school.

Your questions

Q: “If a backup QB at Ohio State is getting eff-you money (relatively speaking), what does that mean for college athletes in Utah?” -- @benwilkinson

A: The fact that highly-touted Ohio State freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers has reportedly signed a $1.4 million NIL deal with GT Sports Marketing, which will have the right to sell his autograph, means absolutely nothing for college athletes in Utah.

We have seen some big-money deals for high-profile athletes across the Power Five landscape, but we haven’t seen anything like that at Utah. As far as I can tell, the NIL stuff happening here is mostly local, mostly niche, not significant enough to cause a huge stir. I have a working theory on all of this, so bear with me.

The University of Utah and its athletics programs are important to this area, but Utes sports do not consume Salt Lake City. Have you ever been to Columbus, Ohio? Lincoln, Neb.? Athens, Ga. and the like? Those towns are consumed by their respective football programs, and it’s a seven-days-a-week deal there. High-profile, never-ending interest in all facets, all week, all month, all year. Those student-athletes are the biggest things going in those markets.

Utah plays big-time college football, but the sport does not take over Salt Lake City like it does in those other spots. Therefore, less opportunity for huge NIL money, at least right now.

If the Utes are 4-0 going to USC, 6-0 coming out of that USC-Arizona State stretch, do new, more-lucrative NIL opportunities pop up? Maybe, but I have a hard time envisioning that.

Quinn Ewers is his own breed of NIL opportunity, the type of NIL opportunity that does not and will not exist in Salt Lake City.

Q: “I don’t remember exactly when you took the beat. Have you covered a home game, with fans in the stadium, and if not, how excited are you to take in the game-day environment at Rice-Eccles?” -- @dpg35

A: Thursday was my first time at Rice-Eccles in front a “full crowd,” but I’m going to reserve judgment until we get a little further down the road, or at least to a game that isn’t being played on a Thursday at 5:30.

Tough to judge anything for the first time with a weekday, late-afternoon kickoff. Rice-Eccles was not full, which is to be expected.

Q: “White Lotus season 2, are you watching? I didn’t particularly enjoy season 1.” -- @OuterDarknezz

A: I can understand not enjoying season one, which had a really good cast. It was weird, it was awkward, it was cringey, I thought the ending was a little clunky, but I was drawn in thanks to the first five minutes of the first episode and wanted to see it through.

Yeah, I’m in for a second season, although I can see it quickly turning into a hate-watch.

Q: “If the Trib allowed you NIL Deals, who or what would be in your wheelhouse?” -- @espn700bill

A: The esteemed voice of the Utes, Mr. William Riley, with a thought-provoking, vitally important question.

Locally, I would be happy to represent any of the following: Caffe Expresso, Coffee Garden, Fisher Brewing, Valter’s Osteria, Red Iguana, Cafe Rio (the one on 400 South), Eggs in the City, T.F. Brewing, Takashi, and the 7-Eleven down 1100 East, specifically because I was dying on a bike ride recently and they had blue Gatorade.

With the exception of 7-Eleven, all of those small businesses offer things that I genuinely enjoy, whether it’s coffee, beer, Italian food, Mexican food, or breakfast foods.

Hey, Bill, since you brought this up, I’m happy to represent ESPN700 by taking half your 11-2 weekday slot at half of whatever your salary figure is. Love ya, bud.

Q: “As a New York guy, what are your thoughts on The Pie?” -- @rodlebster1

A: I’ll start with this: The New Yorker in me still really doesn’t want to hear anything from anyone about pizza, with the exception of a 100-mile radius within the northeast.

Seriously, though, for what it is, I really enjoy The Pie. Is it outstanding pizza? No, but is it perfectly acceptable and, more importantly, always consistent? You bet. The Pie gets it done and has essentially turned into our go-to place, partially as a matter of convenience.

It took me a minute upon arrival to come to this conclusion, but I live in Utah now. I have to adjust the pizza expectations accordingly.

On a related note, the bagels here are mostly very terrible. I don’t need a rebuttal to that statement.