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Utes look to cut down mistakes as rivalry game against BYU looms

Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) takes a snap during the season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) takes a snap during the season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — After a wild weekend of college football where six FCS teams claimed victory over their FBS opponent — most notably Montana's 13-7 win over No. 20 Washington — Utah can be even more thankful it got past Weber State without too much trouble Thursday night.

The final result over the Wildcats was more than a three touchdown margin, but there were enough miscues and Week 1 mistakes to keep Kyle Whittingham busy with a laundry list of items to work on in the week leading up to the program's rivalry matchup against BYU Saturday.

It was a typical Week 1 showing, like most programs around the country, but one that left the program knowing it could do and be more — more to showcase its talent and a team featured in the Associated Press Top 25.

"We've got to have a great week of practice because right now, based on (Thursday) we're not good enough, so we've got to get better," Whittingham said of his team's performance.

And while there were many areas to improve from Thursday, the Utes have the pieces to have success; it's now just a matter of putting it all together as the season progresses.

Once Utah can clean up its mistakes, albeit not major mistakes, Utah's starting quarterback Charlie Brewer believes the team can be one of the best in the Pac-12 — which after Saturday night's poor showing from a majority of the conference, it may be an easier task than previously thought, though Week 1 performances are tough to use to project future success or failure.

"I feel like we can be really good in the running game as well as the passing game," Brewer said. "I feel like we can be definitely an explosive offense — one of the top offenses in the Pac-12, in the country. So we've got to keep improving to do that, but I feel like we definitely can."

One such area the team needs to improve is its red zone offense. Utah had two dropped passes in the red zone — a dropped pass on the 2-yard line by TJ Pledger and a dropped pass in the end zone by Cole Fotheringham — and were stopped short on the 1-yard line another time. It resulted in 12 less points for the Utes, but they're mistakes where Utah knows it can get better and fix.

The mistakes are part of the game — no game is perfect — but it's how the team responds moving forward that will dictate where Utah can go this season. Whittingham has said the team has a 2019 vibe in terms of its leadership on the team, but whether the team can see similar results remains to be seen.

With Brewer under center, Utah's offense has the quarterback capable of leading the charge. In his Utes debut, Brewer didn't disappoint. He turned a traditional run-first offense into one with a dynamic passing attack.

Brewer got multiple players involved in the game and kept the Weber State defense guessing as to where the ball was going.

"I think we have a lot of talented guys. … We'll do our best to spread the ball to all those guys," Brewer said. "Sometimes one or two guys may have a bigger night than the other guys."

But for the Utes to be effective, it has to get the run-game going with one of four running backs looking to establish himself as the leading back — Tavion Thomas appears to be leading the charge after one game with 107 rushing yards and two touchdowns under his belt after the first game.

"We think Charlie's a real capable quarterback … but we know we need to throw the football better, we need to throw it more productively, more efficiently than we have," Whittingham said.

"If you want to be an elite team, you've got to be able to throw the ball with a lot of productivity and getting chunk yardage. It's hard to put together a 10-12 play drive 5-6 yards at a time, you're gonna screw it up somewhere along the way — you've got to get those big chunk plays, and which usually occur in the throw game, not always, but usually."

The strategy is simple: eliminate dropped passes and establish a dominant run game to compliment the passing attack. Do that and Utah has a chance to break double digits in its streak against BYU Saturday. But more importantly, it's about reaching the team's goal of a Pac-12 Championship.

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