Well, that didn’t take long.

For anyone wondering how Utah’s offense would look on Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium with Cam Rising sidelined for its rematch with the Florida Gators, Bryson Barnes answered the question in about 3 seconds.

On the Utes’ very first play of the game, Barnes uncorked a 70-yard touchdown bomb to the aptly named Money Parks, giving the team an early lead it would not relinquish in an eventual 24-11 win.

But, believe it or not, that was not Utah’s most impressive play of the game.

That was razzle-dazzle, good timing, and a bit of zigging when Utah normally goes zagging, which head coach Kyle Whittingham highlighted in a halftime interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe, telling her, “We’ve opened up, fairly conservatively the last several years, I figured let’s change it up this year.”

Exciting or not, relieving or not, stomach-settling or not — that’s not Utah football.

What they did on defense on back-to-back drives in the third quarter?

Now, that was Utah football.


Unlike the quick-strike Utes, it took Florida a while to build some offensive momentum. Finally, midway through the 3rd quarter, it clicked for Graham Mertz and Co.

On Florida’s 2nd drive of the 2nd half — it first resulted in an interception in Gators territory that led to a Utah touchdown — a Mertz-to-Ricky Pearsall 40-yard connection flipped the field position and gave the offense some buzz.

But on 4th-and-3 from the Utah 15-yard line, the Utes came up big in the Florida backfield, where Van Fillinger and Levani Damuni collided with Dante Zanders for a 1-yard loss.

That alone was impressive.

But on the Gators’ very next drive, Jonah Elliss pulverized Mertz for a 12-yard sack on 4th-and-9, one of 2 Elliss sacks on a day the Utah defense had 5.

Back-to-back drives, back-to-back 4th-down stops.

With a defense that was even more banged up than the offense.

Grit. Persistence. No excuses.

Now, that is Utah football.


Sitting in the postgame press conference after the Pac-12 title game last year, Whittingham was asked about the team’s improved depth, which was wholly on display in the team’s 47-24 demolition of favored USC.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to achieve ever since we got in the conference. When we first got here, our first 22 were good, but a big drop-off after that. We’ve been working tirelessly to improve the depth of the roster. I think we’re as deep and talented now as we ever have been. I know we are. I think that was manifest a lot of times this season. A lot of times we were without guys. Other years probably could not have overcome it, not continued to play at the high level we were able to this year. That’s because of the recruiting efforts of our coaches, their development of those players, the sheer talent of the roster 1 through 85.”

His beliefs were put to the test on Thursday night.

If only Rising were out, that would be one thing.

But so too was terrific tight end Brant Kuithe. And dominating defensive linemen Junior Tafuna and Connor O’Toole. And then star linebacker Karene Reid got a bad hit to the head.

Before you knew it, the Utes were down 8 starters, including a half-dozen all-conference candidates and their starting center, Johnny Maea.

And yet Utah barely seemed fazed, a testament to Whittingham’s recruiting, development and leadership.

With Rising sidelined, the Utes leaned on Barnes through the air and 3rd-string athletic QB Nate Johnson on the ground.

Barnes was an efficient 12-of-18 for 159 yards and a touchdown and Johnson tied for the team lead with 45 rushing yards and a score.

Barnes even took one in on the ground, as well.


“This team has got a lot of grit,” Whittingham told Rowe after the game. “In a word, grit. A next-man-up mentality. Bryson Barnes, Nate did what we needed them to do.”


With the win, Utah took exorcised some demons.

Not only did the Utes score a knockout in a rematch of last year’s heartbreaking season-opening loss to the Gators, but the win is Utah’s first regular season win over an SEC opponent after an 0-7 start.

“It feels really good,” star safety Cole Bishop said in the post-gam press conference. “I’ve been talking about how we’re embarrassed with what we put on film last year. We were playing with a chip on our shoulder.”

It was not the kind of win that rewrites expectations for the Utes. The Gators might just be terrible this year, and they constantly shot themselves in the foot on Thursday.

But on a night when they were shorthanded all over the field, Utah proved the great strides it has undertaken in recent years.

“I’m proud of our guys; we had a bunch of guys step up and pick up the slack,” Whittingham in his post-game presser. “A lot of guys of were not available tonight. That’s the mentality you’ve got to have. You can’t cry and whine about what you don’t have. The guys who are in the game have to get it done, and our guys did just that.”