Even without two-time all-Pac-12 quarterback Cameron Rising, No. 14 Utah had little trouble taking care of Florida in its 2023 opener.
Utah used the quarterback combination of Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson and a swarming defense to overwhelm the Gators, 24-11, on Thursday to start the season 1-0.
It was also a bit of revenge for the Utes after a heartbreaking Week 1 loss to the Gators in Gainesville last fall.
There had been speculation about Rising’s availability after he suffered a serious knee injury in last year’s Rose Bowl.
With Rising still on the mend, Barnes, a walk-on, got the start and made his presence known from his very first pass.
Instead of playing it safe with a reserve quarterback, the Utes went with a play-action deep ball on their first play from scrimmage.
Barnes found Money Parks behind the defense for a 70-yard touchdown to send Rice-Eccles Stadium into a frenzy.
The Barnes-to-Parks connection gave the Utes a 7-0 lead — a lead they would never relinquish thanks in large part to a lengthy list of miscues from Billy Napier's Gators.
Florida committed procedure penalties on three separate third or fourth-and-1 plays, including one early in the second quarter when Utah’s lead was 7-3.
The Gators, after brushing off the early Utah touchdown, strung together a nice drive led by new quarterback Graham Mertz, a Wisconsin transfer.
Florida got all the way to Utah’s 9-yard line and kept the offense on the field for a fourth-and-1, only to commit a false start penalty.
From there, Napier, the second-year UF head coach, sent out his field goal unit and kicker Adam Mihalek shanked a 31-yard try.
On the ensuing possession, the Florida defense forced a Utah punt only to give the ball back to the Utes in embarrassing fashion.
When the Gators lined up to field the punt, they had two players on the field wearing No. 3. That’s a substitution infraction penalty, and it gave Utah an automatic first down.
Four plays later, the speedy Johnson broke off a 27-yard touchdown run to give Utah a 14-3 lead with 7:50 remaining in the first half.