SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's season-opening 27-10 victory over Montana State wasn't followed by a lot of positive reaffirmation. The Utes were less than stellar Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"We won't win a game in the Pac-12 if we play like this the rest of the way," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who was especially unhappy with the throw game.
The Utes finished with just 101 yards in the air on 15-of-23 passing by quarterback Jordan Wynn.
"We've got to play better. I've got to play better," Wynn said while noting he needs to make a couple of more throws. "We'll watch the tape and learn from it."
Utah has a big test looming. The Utes face USC next week in Los Angeles.
"Don't discredit Montana State at all. They're a good football team. They played tough, and they didn't give up," Wynn said. "But, I mean, it's USC now. So you can't play like that and expect to win."
The Utes managed just 16 first downs against the Big Sky Conference's Bobcats. They netted just 292 yards of offense.
"We got the 'W.' It was less than impressive. No one would argue that," Whittingham said. "The offense was sluggish. We didn't have a good tempo, especially at the beginning."
There were some bright spots, though.
Running back John White IV had an impressive debut with 150 yards on 19 carries. Tight ends Dallin Rogers and Kendrick Moeai each finished with a team-high five catches.
The defense had a decent day with safety-turned-linebacker Brian Blechen picking off two passes. Chaz Walker made a team-high 10 tackles and Utah limited Montana State to only 12 first downs.
"We made plays but we had some missed opportunities as well," said defensive tackle Derrick Shelby. "(Montana State quarterback) DeNarius McGhee is a very mobile playmaker, but we were able to corral him most of the night."
McGhee completed 16-of-29 passes for 183 yards. He was intercepted and sacked twice.
The Utes had shutout going until giving up a touchdown late in the opening half, an eight-play series covering 79 yards.
"That is unacceptable," Whittingham said. "We cannot give up drives like that to any opponent."
It was Utah's offense, however, in the spotlight as new offensive coordinator Norm Chow unveiled his scheme.
Utah opened the Chow era with a 4-yard pass from Wynn to DeVonte Christopher. It proved to be the only highlight, however, in a series that consisted of three plays and a punt.
Things were much more productive the second time around. Same goes for the third, fourth and fifth drives — all resulted in points for the Utes.
An interception by Blechen set up the first score. The sophomore picked off a McGhee pass near midfield and returned it 39 yards before trying to pitch it back to cornerback Ryan Lacy. The connection was made, but not until the ball hit the turf first. Lacy recovered the fumble on the Montana State 8.
Three plays later, Wynn teamed with Christopher on a 7-yard scoring strike to put the Utes on the board. Coleman Petersen added the PAT to make it 7-0 just two minutes into the contest.
After forcing Montana State to punt on the ensuing possession, Utah's offense embarked on another scoring drive. This one consisted of nine plays and 62 yards, culminating with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Wynn to White.
Utah added to its 14-0 lead late in the quarter after Matt Martinez blocked a punt. Petersen connected on a 37-yard field goal after the Utes were unable to pick up a first down.
Leading 17-0 after one quarter, Utah continued its outburst in the second. Following Montana State's third punt of the game, the Utes put together a nine-play march to the end zone. White finished it off with a 10-yard touchdown run with 11:53 left to play in the first half.
Utah's 24-0 lead held firm until just 35 seconds remained in the second quarter. That's when the Montana State responded with a 7-yard touchdown toss from McGhee to Tanner Bleskin. The Bobcats kept the drive alive by converting on a third-and-3 situation from the Ute 48 with a 39-yard pass play to Cody Kirk.
The late drive made the halftime statistics a little less lopsided. Utah had 173 yards at the break, while Montana State netted 119.
Things didn't open up much in the third quarter. The only points scored came on a 44-yard field goal by Petersen that upped the Utes' lead to 27-7 less than six minutes into the second half.
Montana State countered with a kick of its own — a 37-yarder by Jason Cunningham — early in the fourth quarter to close out all scoring in the contest.
"We made too many mistakes early," Bobcats coach Rob Ash said while calling the short-field situations, penalties, the blocked punt and first interception a nightmare. "But after that our guys bounced back and played tough. Defensively, I thought we did particularly well the last three quarters of the game. I was proud of the way we kept coming back."