Death, taxes and Utah football winning season openers.
The 14th ranked Utes defeated the Florida Gators, 24-11, in the season opener on Thursday night in front of a record crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium. More than 53,000 fans were in attendance as the Utes got revenge after losing a heartbreaker against the Gators last year (29-26).
Filling in for Cam Rising, backup quarterback Bryson Barnes completed 12 of 18 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown in the win, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Money Parks on Utah’s first play of the game.
On the ground, Nate Johnson and Micah Bernard each finished the night with a game-high 45 yards rushing a piece. Meanwhile Florida had just 13 yards rushing and averaged 0.6 yards per carry a stark difference after the Gators nearly had 300 yards rushing last year against the Utes in the Swamp. Utah’s defense made sure there wasn’t a repeat of last year as the Gators went a horrendous 1-of-13 on third down.
We have set an all-time attendance record at Rice-Eccles Stadium of 53,644!!
— Utah Athletics (@utahathletics) September 1, 2023
On offense, Johnson, a dual-threat quarterback, split time at quarterback with Barnes as usual starter Cam Rising still recovering from a knee injury in the Rose Bowl.
The freshman put Florida’s defense on its heels when he checked in during the second quarter. He faked a handoff to Micah Bernard and raced 27 yards to extend Utah’s lead to 14-3 midway through the second quarter.
Special teams mistakes by Florida also set up scoring drives for the Utes. The Gators missed s field goal, committed a fourth-down equipment infraction penalty to keep a touchdown drive alive, and the punter shanked a 21-yard punt to set up a 51-yard field goal from Utah kicker Cole Becker.
UTAH MAN pic.twitter.com/FVoQD8nZHo
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) September 1, 2023
That’s all the points Utah needed the rest of the way as the defense shut down the Gators, with Sione Vaki getting the games only turnover of the contest.
As stated in my preview, I expected Utah to win and they did so. It wasn’t pretty at times as the Utes managing just 270 yards of offense and a lot of Florida’s problems were self-inflicted wounds, however, the Utes were without several starters and were never really threatened in the game. Next week’s contest against Baylor on the road will show just how good this team is.