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Utah vs. Idaho State: Everything you need to know for Thursday’s opener
Hey folks, it's football time, and here's all you need to know when the Utes take on Idaho State:
Time, Place and [radio waves in] Space • 5:30 p.m. MT, Rice-Eccles Stadium. Televised on Pac-12 Networks and broadcasted on ESPN700.
The Set-Up • Utah opens the season with an FCS opponent that hasn't beaten a road team since before Justin Bieber was a hit. But Utah does return some very big names, including Travis Wilson, Kenneth Scott and Brian Blechen, and has a chance to showcase its new-look offense.
Fans Need To Know • The U. is doing its annual Stripe the Stadium Promotion, making Rice-Eccles look like a swirl of red and white. What you should be wearing is determined by your section. Check it out by clicking here.
Opposing Coach • Mike Kramer, 6-28 as head coach at ISU. Won four Big Sky championships as coach of Eastern Washington and Montana State.
Media Guide Nugget • Linebacker Robbie Mackesey has a collection of 400 sports jerseys. Excerpt from an ISU profile: "I have every football jersey from every team as well as basketball, a lot of hockey, baseball and even a couple soccer jerseys," Mackesey said.
Utah Ties • Idaho State plays twice as many games against Utah teams this season — four — than Utah teams do against each other. Players with Utah connections dot the roster, too. Redshirt freshman quarterback James Delacenserie played for Wasatch. Sophomore offensive lineman Matt Lewis, now listed at 6-5, 343 pounds, played for Judge. One player with Utah ties who isn't on the roster, notably, is defensive lineman JonRyheem Peoples, who was cut loose by BYU's Bronco Mendenhall after failing to meet academic and weight goals. Peoples was said to be trying to qualify at Idaho State, but apparently that hasn't happened yet.
Pregame Quotable • Coach Kramer is not optimistic about his chances of breaking a 44-game road losing streak this weekend or the next. On a Big Sky conference call this Monday, he told media, "Opening up at Utah and next week at Utah State, I'm sure that that streak's really not in danger."
Bengals Offensive Outlook • Quarterback Justin Arias is one of the most prolific Idaho State gunslingers in recent memory, and he has 5-foot-11, 196-pound running back Xavier Finney (868 yards in 2013) in the backfield with him. Both of them have the benefit of five returning starters on the offensive line, all but one of them weighing over 300 pounds. The Utes' defensive line will get an early test here, hoping to use athletic advantages to win battles up front and get to plays early. Of the receivers, Madison Mangum, who transferred in from BYU, is the most dangerous threat at a speedy 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds. The Utes could use Eric Rowe's physical style of coverage to try to neutralize him — at least when Arias can get the ball away. Tight end Josh Cook is also a passing threat who will require some attention, possibly from the linebackers. Realistically, while the Bengals should be better on paper than last year, the offense has historically struggled against FBS opponents. Utah's speed and power edge should help in most match-ups.
Bengals Defensive Outlook • Idaho State runs a base defense with four linebackers and three down linemen. Throughout fall camp, the Bengals have been trying to work on getting better pass rushing pressure. In the front, 265-pound right end Dave Forester will probably have his hands full with Jeremiah Poutasi and Junior Salt, but on the other side, it's time for J.J. Dielman to show what he can do as a starter against a left end either his own weight, or a speedy edge guy in Hayden Stout. Mitch Beckstead is the star of the defense, manning the middle and leading the team in tackles last year, and will try his best to plug up holes against the run game. He's been limited this fall after recovering from offseason surgery. The biggest slant for the Utes might be the secondary, where the Bengals start 5-foot-6 Vai Peko at right corner. The way Kenneth Scott and Tim Patrick have been winning jump balls in fall camp, Travis Wilson could probably attack that side all night if he chose to. Expect, however, a more grinding style of play with the occasional big run or huge gain after a catch. The Utes will try to work out the kinks in their offense with pace and variety, not merely throw to Dres Anderson 20 times in the first half.
Special Teams • Welcome to the big show, Zak Johnson. He's the redshirt freshman the Bengals are breaking in at kicker. Senior punter C.J. Reyes is more experienced, having launched off 66 punts last year for a 38.5-yard-per-punt average (not net yards). The Bengals did not return a kick or punt for a touchdown last year. The previously mentioned Peko will take back punts, and Aaron Prier is the experienced hand on kicks. Last year, special teams truly shined in Utah's opener. Time to see if losing Jay Hill hurt Utah a lot or a little in this phase.
1. As the relationship of former Idaho State assistants Kyle Whittingham and Dave Christensen come full circle Tuesday night, they'll contend with two former Utes who are working their first full-fledged Division I jobs in Pocatello.