The TribUte newsletter: We don’t know what this Utah football team is yet

Plus, how does the Pac-12 look currently with conference-play beginning in earnest this weekend?

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham as the University of Utah host Southern Utah University at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Sept. 10, 2022.

The University of Utah defense made Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson look like Michael Vick, circa 2006.

The Utes followed that by obliterating Southern Utah, thoroughly controlling San Diego State (aside from some first-quarter troubles), and now sit 2-1 as their Pac-12 schedule begins Saturday night at Arizona State (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

Some of the numbers attached to this early three-game disparity in opponents are gaudy, none gaudier than Utah allowing just 90 passing yards per game, good for No. 2 nationally.

“I think you have to wait another three or four weeks until we’ve played more of a cross-section of teams,” Kyle Whittingham said Monday when presented with that statistic. “The last team we played, San Diego State, they weren’t real committed to throwing, particularly when their quarterback (Braxton Burmeister) went out (with an injury).

“We don’t think we have all the answers in pass coverage or anything like that. We’ll just have to see how things play out.”

That soundbite from Whittingham struck me as a clear reminder that we don’t have a full understanding of what this Utah team is yet. Frankly, how could we, given Florida and SUU are at opposite ends of the spectrum, while San Diego State is somewhere in between?

Here is what I am sure of: The loss to Florida is looking worse after the Gators lost to Kentucky and had to fight off South Florida. Furthermore, Richardson has looked, at best, pedestrian since running all over Utah.

Here is what I am reasonably sure of: The fact Utah yielded nearly 300 rushing yards to the Gators was an aberration. Can that happen again? Yes, but that is so far outside the norm, it would be jarring to see it again, save for maybe USC, which also has a dynamic quarterback in Caleb Williams.

Here is what I want to see: Oregon State at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Oct. 1. The Beavers are 3-0 with USC visiting Corvallis on Saturday. If Oregon State wins that game, or even has a competitive loss, it will feel like a legitimately critical conference matchup. Utah, remember, was the prohibitive favorite to win the Pac-12 back in July. It may still be, but there are no fewer than six conference teams, including the Beavers, playing well right now.

Soon enough, we will learn what this Utah team in fact is.

Other things on my mind

I don’t know where this video clip of Cam Rising (hilariously) answering a question about BYU originated, but it got me thinking. Does anyone else find it interesting (or care at all), that Rising will leave Utah having never taken a snap against the Cougars?

What an odd set of circumstances.

Assuming continued health, Rising will have played in up to 28 career games through the end of this season. In the unlikely event he returns for a sixth year in 2023, he would eclipse 40 games. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Utah-BYU game, although Rising would have missed it with injury anyway. Charlie Brewer started last season’s matchup, and the series is now on hiatus in 2022 and 2023. Odd, and surely unprecedented within the history of the rivalry.

• Utah can win the Pac-12. USC can win the Pac-12. I still think Oregon can win the Pac-12. In smashing Michigan State last week in Seattle, Washington certainly looked like it had the horses. I still think UCLA can be a disruptor at the top of the league. Washington State and Oregon State strike me as not having enough juice to get to the Pac-12 championship game.

• Chris Curry is out for the season, which means we’re likely to see a little more of Jaylon Glover moving forward. Not a bad thing as the true freshman looked capable each of the last two weeks. It is Tavion Thomas’ backfield, and Micah Bernard also has a say, but there is also room for Glover.