No. 13 Utes respond to loss at Florida by putting 73 points on Southern Utah

Utah also allowed only 85 yards of total offense to the Thunderbirds at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) hands off to Utah Utes running back Micah Bernard (2) as the University of Utah host Southern Utah University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Sept. 10, 2022.

Eric Weddle brought his L.A. Rams Super Bowl ring to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday.

About an hour before his former team kicked off against Southern Utah, the newly minted University of Utah Hall of Famer told reporters he thought last weekend’s close loss to Florida would motivate the No. 13 Utes for the rest of the season.

The Utes definitely made Weddle’s comment seem like a reality Saturday as they blew out the Thunderbirds, 73-7.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes celebrate the win as the University of Utah defeated Southern Utah University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Sept. 10, 2022.

The Utes were expected to beat the Thunderbirds, who received $600,000 to play the game. Nonetheless, beating a team by more than 60 points does allow for some self-reflection, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he doesn’t want his players to be misled by the lopsided nature of the result.

“I don’t know if there’s a challenge other than making sure your players understand that we have a lot to fix and we don’t have all the answers,” the coach said. “We have to get better if we want to get to where we ultimately want to end up.”

Quarterback Cam Rising threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-23 passing. He did most of that damage in the first half as he left the game in the third quarter. Backup Bryson Barnes replaced him and went 6 of 6 with 98 yards and a passing touchdown.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Eric Weddle, an inductee of the 2022 University of Utah Athletics Hall of Fame Class and Super Bowl LVI champion speaks to members of the media Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, prior to the University of Utah game against Southern Utah University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Junior running back Tavion Thomas picked up two rushing touchdowns but also fumbled away the ball for the second time in as many games. Whittingham said Thomas had an issue holding on to the ball early last season but corrected the issue.

“Now it’s showing here up this season a couple of times,” Whittingham said. “So we have to continue to work on it, emphasize it. It’s important to him, I know that.”

Whittingham added that the coaching staff will continue to instill confidence in Thomas by giving him the ball and not immediately benching him for long stretches of the game if he fumbles it. His 11 carries were the most of any running back against Southern Utah despite him only playing the first half.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes running back Jaylon Glover (1) runs the ball for the Utes, in football action between the Utah Utes and the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

Saturday was the type of game that allowed the Utes to play their second- and third-string groups. Freshman running back Jaylon Glover got the ball nine times and ran in two touchdowns, racking up 53 yards in the process. Glover’s touchdowns were the first of his Utah career.

“It was a surreal moment,” Glover said. “You have to act like you’ve been there before. First of many and I’m excited to keep going.”

Tight end Dalton Kincaid got the majority of passes from Rising as a receiver. He made seven catches for 107 yards and had two touchdowns. On one of the touchdowns, he hurdled over an SUU defender.

“I don’t know if I’m ever going to do that again,” Kincaid said. “I thought the guy was going to catch me, to be honest. I didn’t know if I was going to get over him. But it worked out.”

Whittingham seemed pleased with the team’s red zone production and run defense — two areas he criticized after the loss to Florida. He said the red zone offense was, on paper at least, more efficient. On defending the run, Whittingham said Saturday’s performance was “a 180 from last week.”

Rising said the offense’s mindset going into the SUU game was to “come out and dominate.” But the defense dominated as well, holding the Thunderbirds to just 85 total yards. The Utes scored 66 unanswered points after the first quarter.

Freshman linebacker Lander Barton said he cannot recollect any other time he has been part of a defense that effective.

“I feel like we had a good day today,” Barton said of the defense. “I think really we just controlled up front.”