SALT LAKE CITY — With just over a minute left to play in the first quarter Saturday, quarterback Tyler Huntley aired out a deep pass to a wide-open Bryan Thompson streaking down the field.
Huntley connected with Thompson in stride and the redshirt sophomore ran for an 82-yard touchdown to give Utah a 17-0 lead over the visiting Idaho State Bengals. In one play, the longest connected pass at Utah since 2009 and 10th longest in school history, Thompson surpassed his entire freshman season of work — 77 yards on five catches in 12 appearances.
It was a signal that Thompson was finally ready to compete at a high level on Utah’s offense after injuries have plagued him since the end of his freshman season.
“It's been a long time coming,” Thompson said after his team beat the Bengals 31-0 in their final nonconference game of the season. “I had a tough freshman and sophomore year, but it means a lot and it means a lot to the team. I don't like the spotlight on just me — it was a good team effort and team win.”
The play itself wasn’t all that surprising to his head coach Kyle Whittingham, who knows what his young receiver is capable of in-game scenarios; it was more a realization and outward look in a real-game setting that Thompson could finally showcase the years of hard work to get him to that moment.
“Nothing has impressed me about him because that's what we expected him to be,” Whittingham said Saturday. “He's finally healthy and he's finally able to do his thing. We know he's a really good player. What he did today is exactly what we need from him all season long.
“I shouldn't say that it didn't impress me, it didn't surprise me,” Whittingham said as he corrected himself. “It was impressive, but it didn't surprise me what he did today because he's a really good player.”
Thompson, a former three-star recruit out of Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, California, is the last person to take this newfound opportunity for granted, though.
After suffering a nagging leg injury that sidelined him for the majority of last season, Thompson has learned to be patient. The Bible says “for ye have need of patience, that, … ye might receive the promise.” It’s that patience spoken of in the Bible that Thompson reads “a lot,” and the support of his mother who “keeps my head right.”
“That's a big part of my life,” he said. “I talk to my mom every day. She tells me to keep my head up and say my prayers every single day.”
But with injuries behind him this season, Thompson is ready to accept the opportunities presented to him and flourish in an offense that is averaging 32 points per game and comfortably getting past opponents with a relatively vanilla playbook.
“Everybody is going to get their chance to make the plays, but if you get your number called you've got to make the plays,” Thompson said back in fall camp. “If you don't make the plays, that's your opportunity, you miss your opportunity.”
That’s partially why he loves the offense established under offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who he says will scheme to “whoever’s on the field, that’s how he changes the offense. … Whoever’s on the field, whoever’s making the plays, he’ll continue to feed him.
“That's what I like about it,” he added. “You can't say, 'Man, I wish I was in that position.' You got your opportunity. If you don't make something happen, that's your fault.”
Whittingham said Saturday the team will rely on Thompson heavily this season to lead the passing game and take advantage of his “great skill set” and “great hands.” And while Thompson is up for the challenge, he recognizes he’s just one in a room of talented receivers ready to make similar plays this season.
“I'm not really focused on individual (stats) — individual stats come, so we’re just focused on winning games one game at a time,” he said. “I don't really care about individual at all. If my time comes to get the ball, my number's called, then I'll deliver. But I don't care about it individually, we are all about the team and we want to win that championship.”
No. 10 Utah will get its first true test of the season Friday when it travels to Los Angeles to open up conference play in The Coliseum against the USC Trojans. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. MDT and will be broadcast on FS1.