Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes' 35-17 win over Utah State was "something we can build on."
Besides extending the nation's longest winning streak to 15 games (dating back to 2007) and defeating the Aggies for the 12th consecutive time, the 19th-ranked Utes opened the season with several success stories.
Running back Matt Asiata, quarterback Terrance Cain and David Reed headlined an offense that netted 519 yards.
Asiata was a workhorse, touching the ball on 38 of Utah's 80 offensive plays. The senior rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
"That's going to be all season long," said Whittingham, who acknowledged that Asiata is going to be Utah's guy. "He wants the ball and we're going to get it to him."
Cain, who just learned he would be starter two days ago, completed 20-of-30 passes for 286 yards and a pair of scores.
"All things said I think he was pretty darn good in his debut," Whittingham said.
Cain, a junior-college transfer who prevailed in a camp battle with true freshman Jordan Wynn for the starting job, drew a lot of praise from his teammates.
"Outstanding," said Reed, the leading receiver with 10 catches for 172 yards and a touchdown.
Asiata said Cain was "calm, humble and kept his poise."
Aside from one big play, Utah's defense also had a good outing. The Utes stopped the Aggies on third down in all 12 situations they faced.
Whittingham said the efficiency compensated for three turnovers.
"Utah played a great game. They made plays and we didn't," said Utah State coach Gary Andersen. "That's what made the difference in the game."
USU jumped out to a 3-0 lead when Chris Ulinski capped the game's opening drive with a 29-yard field goal. The Aggies moved into scoring position when Diondre Borel connected on a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Stanley Morrison.
Utah's first offensive series got off to a good start when Cain teamed with David Reed on an 8-yard pass. The second play, however, ended with a fumble by Asiata and a recovery by USU's Bobby Wagner on the Utah 27-yard line.
The Aggies, though, failed to capitalize on the situation. They eventually came up empty when a 48-yard kick by Ulinski sailed wide right.
Another two-play drive followed for the Utes and this time around they made the most of it. After a modest gain on first down, Cain completed a 65-yard touchdown pass to Reed.
Leading 7-3 following the PAT, Utah's defense tightened and forced USU to punt. Luke Matthews returned it 38 yards and into Aggie territory.
Four plays later, Cain connected with John Peel on a 22-yard scoring strike.
"You've got great receivers running great routes," Cain said. "You've got to get it to them and they'll make the plays for you."
Trailing 14-3, USU answered quickly. Robert Turbin ran for a school-record 96-yard touchdown on first down — untouched, right up the middle — to put the Aggies back in contention with 5:17 remaining in the first quarter.
"I hated it. But it's a mental mistake and in this game you can't make mental mistakes like that," said linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, who led the Utes with nine tackles. "We got it fixed and we're hoping that never happens again."
The 14-10 score didn't hold firm for long.
On the first play of the second quarter, Asiata gave the Utes some breathing room with a 2-yard touchdown run. The margin could have swelled even greater the next time they had the ball, but a goal-line stand by the Aggies ended with Cain being stopped on the 1-yard line on fourth down.
"We've got a lot to work on. We've got to finish drives off. That's all," Reed said. "We've got to finish our drives off. We've got to work on that big time."
Utah recouped some of the lost points on USU's ensuing possession. Matt Martinez blocked a Peter Caldwell punt in the end zone for a safety.
The Utes made it 26-10 less than three minutes later when Ben Vroman made his first career field goal, a 44-yarder.
Things didn't go so well for Utah late in the half. USU safety James Brindley intercepted a tipped pass by Cain and returned it 20 yards to the 5-yard line. An offsides penalty on the Utes was followed by a 2-yard touchdown run by Borel.
Utah led 26-17 at the half, holding a 309-222 advantage in total offense and a 15-6 edge in first downs.
The third quarter began with an exchange of punts. The Utes then put together a 10-play, 76-yard drive to extend their lead to 33-17. A 1-yard run by Asiata capped a series that took nearly four minutes off the clock.
No other scores followed until defensive end Nai Fotu sacked Borel, who fumbled the ball in the end zone, for a safety with 48,2 seconds remaining.
It capped a highly anticipated reunion with Andersen, a close friend of Whittingham and many of the Utah players.
"I'm glad we got a win against him so I can start talking smack again," said Sylvester, who called his former coordinator a "mastermind" of football.
Andersen said coming back to Rice-Eccles Stadium was less emotional than he thought it would be.
"Once I got here it was just another football game," he explained. "I do have to agree with Kyle that this has been the longest football game of my life — the first one as a head coach. I am glad that we won't have to play each other for a while."
The Utes face another Western Athletic Conference opponent next week when they head to San Jose State. The Aggies, meanwhile, have a bye before traveling to Texas A&M on Sept. 19.