The setting was ideal Thursday night in Salt Lake City — perfect weather and a sellout crowd for the opener against a lesser opponent.
It all set up well for Utah, except for one thing: some offensive rust. Utah dug itself into a 10-0 deficit against Weber State before the offense woke up and scored 41 unanswered points in a 41-10 win in the 2018 opener.
It was a game where the stat sheet could be a little misleading. Utah turned the ball over four times and didn’t force a single turnover against the Wildcats. Despite not forcing a turnover, the Utah defense was stellar.
Morgan Scalley’s defense held Weber State to 61 total yards in the game, which is the third fewest allowed in Utah football history. Utah was minus four in the turnover battle, which is the first time since 2011 that they had such a margin and still won a game.
There was a lot to like on Thursday night and a little bit to be concerned about, too. But that tends to be the nature of most openers in college football with no preseason or exhibition games, as they do in the NFL.
- Quarterback Tyler Huntley settled into a nice rhythm after a slow start and finished with 253 yards passing and four touchdowns.
- Running back Zack Moss looks better than a year ago. He’s bigger and faster, as evidenced on the 86-yard touchdown run.
- Chase Hansen looks at home at linebacker. The senior was around the ball all night and came up with two tackles for loss.
- Solomon Enis didn’t look like a true freshman. The wide out from Phoenix, Arizona made a pair of big catches and drew a pass interference play.
- No major injuries suffered. After the win, the next most important thing to the Utah coaching staff was getting out without too many injuries. It appears that is the case.
The not so good
- Utah’s slow start at home against a 1-AA squad. This has been a recurring theme for the Utes in openers.
- Too many turnovers committed and none forced. Chalk some of it up to rust, but Utah will have to be better next week at Northern Illinois.
- Third down conversions were an issue. Utah went just 5-of-14 on third downs on Thursday night, including several third-and-short plays.
My game balls
Moss, who finished with 150 yards rushing, had an 86-yard touchdown run and 24 yards receiving, with a 9-yard touchdown catch. Moss did much of his work on Thursday night without a great deal of push up front from his line. The big touchdown run in the second quarter gave Utah the lead and propelled them to a win.
On a night where Utah’s defense didn’t force a single turnover, nobody was great, but a lot of guys were good. My defensive game ball goes to Chase Hansen playing at rover linebacker. He was around the ball all night and finished with two tackles for loss.
The Utah special teams had a night of mixed results. A botched punt return/fumble and blocked field goal were the biggest negatives. However, All-American punter Mitch Wishnowsky grabs the game ball with his fake-punt run for a first down and his three punts that averaged 47.7 yards per kick.
Three guys who caught my eye
- Jason Shelley showed explosiveness and why he’s No. 2. He completed a 40-yard pass to Jaylen Dixon — one of the top plays of the night behind Covey and Moss.
- Solomon Enis finished with two receptions for 34 yards and drew a pass interference call against Weber State. The true freshman made a real case to see more snaps next week.
- Pita Tonga, Hauati Pututau, John Penisini. I know it’s three guys, but they are three guys who play the same position and dominated inside on the defensive line. They were a big reason Weber State had just 61 total yards and only three first downs on the night.
Finally, a word about everyone’s favorite returned missionary receiver. In a word, Covey’s return was spectacular. His numbers were good, six catches for 53 yards and two rushes for 64 yards, but the stats don’t tell the entire story or impact he had on the game.
Covey brings an energy and enthusiasm that’s hard to describe unless you are around it. Coaches and teammates love him and fans are in awe of his skills. After the game, teammates Moss and Huntley couldn’t say enough good things about being on the field with him for the first time.
Covey also had the play of the night, which was a broken trick play that went for 38 yards and at least six missed tackles by Weber State’s defense. For those wondering how he would play coming back after two years away from football, they got their answer on Thursday night.