August 31, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Troy Williams has made quite the impression in just eight months on the Utah campus.

He's earned the starting quarterback job over a three-year veteran and the 2015 Florida Gatorade Football Player of the Year. The junior college transfer was also voted a captain by teammates despite arriving in January and missing much of spring ball with an injury.

Williams will be the first new full-time starting quarterback for the Utes since 2012 when the team with Pac-12 title aspirations opens the season at home against Southern Utah on Thursday night.

''I haven't seen nobody work like that before, honestly,'' senior receiver Tim Patrick said. ''Putting in that extra work. He makes me want to work harder ... making me hop on the bandwagon.''

Patrick raved about Williams doing extra after two-a-day practices and watching film deep into the night. He and cornerback Dominique Hatfield have been impressed with his ball placement and touch on deep passes. Hatfield lived in the same complex as Williams and would drop by in the evenings.

''The game wasn't on, the TV wasn't on,'' Hatfield said. ''Instead film was on or he was writing plays against different coverages and what ball should be thrown first. We'd look at each other and we'd do about 500 push-ups at night. Things like that.''

The passing game has been Utah's biggest weakness since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2011. Utah's pass offense has ranked dead last in the conference three times in five seasons and was No. 11 in 2015. The high point was a No. 9 ranking in 2013. Coach Kyle Whittingham has repeatedly said the ''throw game'' will be improved. It must for the Utes to be a legitimate contender.

Williams was named the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit by Rivals.com in 2013 and played five games at Washington before transferring for a season at Santa Monica College. He said the experience helped mold his priorities.

''Knowing that not everything's promised,'' Williams said. ''(Life at a junior college) just helps you realize how fortunate we are here. I take every single second as my last and try to make the most of every moment I'm here.''

Things to watch when Utah hosts Southern Utah:

TRENCH WORK: The Utah defensive line should be one of the best in the Pac-12, if not the entire country. Tackle Lowell Lotulelei was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2015 and end Hunter Dimick's 15 career sacks are tied for No. 8 in school history. Tackle Filipo Mokofisi and end Pita Taumoepenu are listed as starters, but Whittingham also considers tackle Pasoni Tasini and end Kylie Fitts as starters. Fitts led Utah with 7.0 sacks last season.

ROAD GRADERS: While the Utah offense has new starters at every skill position, the offensive line returns four starters and adds a top junior college recruit. Senior J.J. Dielman was second-team All-Pac-12 as a tackle in 2015, but moves to center this season. Senior Sam Tevi started every game at left tackle in 2015, but moves to the right side to make way for Garrett Bolles, the JUCO transfer from Snow College. Whittingham said they may have more depth and ability at the position than at any point in the last 12 years.

THE THUNDERBIRDS: Southern Utah is coming off an 8-4 season with the need to replace three players currently on NFL rosters - Miles Killebrew, LeShaun Sims and James Cowser. The Thunderbirds won a school-record seven consecutive games and finished 7-1 in the Big Sky conference. Southern Utah sits at No. 23 in the preseason FCS coaches' poll and finished 2015 ranked No. 18. Former defensive coordinator Demario Warren was promoted to head coach after Ed Lamb took an assistant position at BYU.

QUOTABLE: ''We have to bring a whole new level of concentration and a whole new level of intensity to stay in this ballgame,'' Warren said. ''I believe that we can and our players do. You don't have a chance unless you believe. We have the first part down, and now we need to go out there and execute.''

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AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org

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Follow Kareem Copeland on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KareemCopeland

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