The Utah Utes football team pulled off a stunning upset over the Florida Gators in the season opener on Thursday night, winning 24-11 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes, ranked No. 14 in the nation, scored on their first offensive play of the game and never looked back, as they dominated the Gators on both sides of the ball.
A Quick Strike for Utah
The Utes wasted no time in setting the tone for the game, as freshman quarterback Bryson Barnes connected with wide receiver Money Parks on a 70-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage. Barnes, who started in place of the injured Cam Rising, showed poise and confidence in his debut, throwing for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 15-of-22 passing.
The Utes’ defense also made a statement early, forcing the Gators to punt on their first three possessions. Utah’s defensive line pressured Florida quarterback Graham Mertz throughout the game, sacking him five times and limiting him to 333 yards and one touchdown on 31-of-44 passing.
Mistakes Doom Florida
The Gators had several opportunities to get back into the game, but they were plagued by mistakes and penalties that stalled their drives. Florida had three trips to the red zone in the first half, but only came away with three points. The Gators missed a field goal, turned the ball over on downs, and threw an interception in Utah territory.
Florida also hurt itself with special teams blunders, such as having two players with the same number on the field during a punt return, which gave Utah a first down and led to a touchdown. The Gators also shanked a punt that set up a field goal for the Utes, and failed to recover an onside kick in the fourth quarter.
A Historic Win for Utah
The Utes’ victory over the Gators was historic for several reasons. It was Utah’s first win over an SEC opponent since 2009, when they beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. It was also Utah’s first win over a ranked opponent in a season opener since 1994, when they beat Oregon. And it was Utah’s first win over Florida in program history, after losing to them last year in Gainesville.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham praised his team’s performance after the game, saying that they played with intensity and toughness. He also credited Barnes for stepping up in his first start, and said that he was proud of how the team handled the adversity of traveling early due to Tropical Storm Idalia.
The Utes will look to build on their momentum when they face Baylor on September 9. The Gators will try to bounce back when they host Georgia Tech on September 9.