Utah’s backup QB Bryson Barnes opens the Florida game with a 70-yard run

LIVE BLOG: The No. 14 Utes beat the Florida Gators 24-11 on Thursday night.

(Trent Nelson | Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes (16) scores a touchdown as the Utah Utes host the Florida Gators, NCAA football team, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, August 31, 2023.

Bryson Barnes was already a folk hero in Utah football.

If he continues like this, he’ll be even bigger.

The former point guard, who started in place of senior Cam Rising, didn’t bother playing safety on his first play from scrimmage. The Milford High star went deep for Money Parks for a 70-yard touchdown to put the Utes up 7-0 early at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Barnes may be the most popular of the Utes’ quarterbacks. But as our columnist Andy Larsen pointed out this week, he’s good with the deep ball.

If you’re still unfamiliar with Barnes’ story, check out this profile before last year’s Rose Bowl.

Final: Utah 24, Florida 11

Kyle Whittingham and the Utes did not have a starting QB position.

But they got revenge.

The Utes beat the Florida Gators, the first SEC opponent ever to visit Rice-Eccles Stadium, 24-11.

Quarterback Cam Rising didn’t suit up, but backups Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson shared the duties of leading the Utes to victory.

“This team has a lot of grit,” Whittingham said. “Next man up mentality. Couldn’t be prouder of those guys. Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson did what we needed them to do. It wasn’t pretty at the end there; we kind of let them come back. But we got the victory. To the next.”

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The Gators cross the goal line

Florida found the end zone in the fourth quarter. Graham Mertz found Caleb Douglas for a 19-yard score, capping a 13-play drive that spanned 6:54.

After a two-point conversion, the score is 24-11 with 9:22 to play.

Florida’s mistakes are mounting

First, the Utes pinned the Gators deep.

Next, Utah State safety Sione Vaki executes the end drills to perfection.

Finally, it’s Bryson Barnes’ turn to show off his wheels.

It’s 24-3 early in the third quarter.

First half: Utah 17, Florida 3

Cole Baker’s 51-yard field goal gave the Utes three more points in the second quarter. But Utah may be mourning a missed opportunity: a trick play that saw wide receiver Devon Feeley narrowly overthrow Micah Bernard from the sideline.

Either way, the Utes lead at halftime.

In his TV interview, coach Kyle Whittingham expressed his happiness with his reserve midfielders so far.

“They both do a good job of taking care of the football. Nate is doing exactly what we hoped he would do in the run game. We probably need to get him more involved in that.”

On this opening drop: “We’ve opened fairly conservatively over the last several years, so we thought we’d change that up this year.”

Some bad news: Whittingham said it’s “doubtful” Karen Reid will return for the second half.

Nate breaks one

Nate Johnson promised.

And Nate Johnson delivered.

The redshirt freshman quarterback breaks a 27-yard run for the Utes’ second touchdown of the game. It’s a result that Utah can thank the Gators for: They were flagged for having two players wearing No. 3 jerseys on the field during a penalty kick, giving the Utes their first down.

Credit MUSS

Twice now, the Gators have had false starts to kill drives. Both times, they were at the south end of the stadium.

The Utes were able to keep Graham Mertz off the line on third down and then MUSS did its job to help force a false start.

To top things off, the Gators pushed the field goal wide right.

Still 7-3.

Q1: Utah 7, Florida 3

A Jonah Ellis sack forced the Gators to settle for a field goal in the first quarter. But Florida threatens again as the quarter comes to a close. Florida QB Graham Mertz appears to be feeling more comfortable — especially with Utah linebacker Karen Reed on the sideline and reportedly being evaluated for a head injury.

Bryson Barnes will start at Utah State

For a while, it looked like Cam Rising would be ready for the Utes’ season opener. So far, Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson have been backed up on the field during warmups.

Brant Kueth, who has not yet been cleared to fully train, wears street clothes on the field.

Big roar

The USA put up a seismic station at Rice-Eccles Stadium tonight and it hasn’t disappointed so far.

How to watch the Utah vs. Florida match

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fans line up as the Utah Utes arrive to take on the Florida Gators, NCAA football team, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, August 31, 2023.

Tonight’s game is available on ESPN and streamed on WatchESPN.

But if you’re looking for more information on this showdown between the Utes and Gators, we’ve got you covered right here.

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