Utes well-prepared for Weber State following tough nonconference openers

Utes quarterback Nate Johnson (13) scores the game-tying touchdown late against Baylor last week. Johnson is the new backup for the Utes, but in the running to start today against Weber State.
AP Photo by Jerry Larson

Utah looks to be extremely well-prepared for the Weber State Wildcats on Saturday, following two difficult nonconference games against Florida then Baylor. The Utes are well-expected to open up the game as massive favorites against their FCS opponents in the Wildcats, making it the perfect opportunity, if such a thing exists, for Head Coach Kyle Whittingham to break in a new starter. 

Just who that starter is has yet to be determined, as Whittingham revealed Monday when speaking to the media that it is actually star senior Cam Rising’s knee surgeon from Los Angeles that will determine his return date. As Whittingham has been commenting on for weeks now, Rising is making continual process from a torn ACL injury and subsequent surgery, to everyone’s delight, beginning to practice without any limitations this week. 

While Whittingham and the rest of the Utes would certainly love to see their two-time all-conference leader suiting up today, he is confident in the newly-minted backup Nate Johnson’s ability to get the job done against the Wildcats. In appearances against the Gators and the Bears, Johnson helped assuage obvious turnover concerns and convince the coaching staff that he is without-a-doubt the man for the job. Former walk-on junior Bryson Barnes had started the previous two contests for the Utes, before being replaced by Johnson in the fourth quarter. 

Utes star Cam Rising greets Baylor tight end Drake Dabney ahead of their game last week. Utah’s two-time all-conference signal caller is still on the mend from ACL surgery in January.
AP photo by Jerry Larson

If it is Johnson behind center come kickoff, Whittingham’s staff will certainly be able to rely upon his former track-star speed, however they’d like to open up their offense using another one of his strengths in his ‘canon’ of an arm. Whittingham believes opening up the offense for Johnson and some of the other athletes on the team will do wonders for them, especially as they move towards an incredibly difficult, final Pac-12 schedule. “We may have been a little too close to the vest (on offense) so far,” said Whittingham. “We’re 2-0, so I’m not questioning things, but in order to get more production, we’ve got to be willing to put the ball up the field more.”

Giving his athletes playmaking chances will become more-and-more necessary starting next week, when Utah welcomes UCLA to Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Pac-12 currently has eight teams in the AP Top 25 Football Poll, by far the most of any conference, and the Utes will play six of a possible seven over the season. What these schools have in common are excellent quarterback play, from the likes of reigning-Heisman winner Caleb Williams, Colorado newcomer Shedeur Sanders and more, and Utah will need to have that position ‘buttoned-up.’ 

Saturday’s game will kickoff at noon and can be viewed on Fubo. There are also plenty of tickets still available on second-market sites like StubHub, SeatGeak and more. After this game, there will be five more chances to see the Utes at Rice-Eccles this season, including the matchup against the Bruins. 

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