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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker (23) runs past Idaho State Bengals defensive back Cody Sorensen (29) during the first half of the game at Rice-Eccles stadium Thursday August 28, 2014. Utah is winning the game 35-7.
Kragthorpe: Utah’s Clay, BYU’s Hill make weekend memorable

Utah’s Clay, BYU’s Hill make it memorable

Clockwise from top left: Utah’s Kaelin Clay returns a kickoff 100 yards for a TD against Idaho State; BYU’s Taysom Hill scrambles against Connecticut; Tennessee’s Derek Barnett sacks Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton; and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon scores against LSU.

First Published Sep 01 2014 01:01 pm • Last Updated Sep 01 2014 11:14 pm

According to the script, my series of games would become more intriguing and competitive as the college football weekend progressed.

Tennessee ruined that theory, with help from Utah State.

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Even so, witnessing all three of the state’s FBS teams in three venues in season openers — with the added bonus of catching Gary Andersen’s Wisconsin team — was instructive. Here’s what I learned from flying 6,562 miles and joining 250,000-plus fans in four stadiums across three time zones:

Utah 56Idaho State 14

The Utes may not have dominated their FCS opponent up front the way coach Kyle Whittingham expected, but their playmakers sure were worth watching. Return specialist Kaelin Clay and running back Devontae Booker made strong impressions in their Utah debuts, with Clay scoring touchdowns via punt and kickoff returns and Booker breaking away on runs and receptions.

Such speed won’t be as noticeable against other opponents, but the Utes have upgraded themselves athletically. Fresno State’s being overwhelmed by USC was surprising, yet the Bulldogs’ visit this week will offer a somewhat better gauge of Utah’s improvement, with a need to fix assignments in stopping the run.

BYU 35, UConn 10

It is always a good sign for BYU when quarterback Taysom Hill looks like the best athlete on the field. That’s often the case against opponents below college football’s elite level, and was certainly true Friday.

My favorite play in BYU’s offense is the variation of the option that ends with Hill throwing the ball to a running back along the sideline. It reminds me of Utah’s shovel pass to a receiver out of an option look in the Urban Meyer era, although that scheme featured the twist of the receiver’s coming back against the flow of the play.

UConn’s defense probably had something to do with it, but Hill hardly resembled the quarterback who was so inaccurate early last season. BYU’s trip to Texas will test him and his offensive line, but his development as a passer should give the Longhorns even more worries about stopping him after he embarrassed a proud program with his running ability last September.


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LSU 28, Wisconsin 24

After watching Andersen and most of his staff members work at Utah or Utah State (or both), I enjoy seeing how their schemes translate to Wisconsin. As of the middle of Saturday’s third quarter in Houston, they were appearing shrewd and I was declaring the Badgers a playoff team. Wisconsin still has Big Ten championship potential, but this was a huge missed opportunity for national impact.

I’ve seen plenty of second-half comebacks, yet LSU’s gradual rally from 17 points down was in a category of its own, just because of how dominant the Badgers looked offensively and defensively before LSU took control. The Badgers will win a lot of games, partly because their conference schedule skips Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan. But they face a long climb toward the Top 10 — and, more significantly, the top four.

Tennessee 38,Utah State 7

USU coach Matt Wells cited his "complete shock" that this game was decided prior to the fourth quarter. What didn’t surprise me was quarterback Chuckie Keeton’s having rushers in his face all night.

The offensive line is a glaring issue for USU. The program’s development obviously hasn’t reached the point where the Aggies can replace four starting linemen and field the same product as ever.

Of the state’s three teams, USU definitely did the most this weekend to change the perception of it, and not in a good way. Maybe, as with Utah’s defense, the assignment mistakes are correctable. The Aggies have until Oct. 11 when Mountain West play begins to solve their problems.

Among other opening performances by MW teams, the most alarming development was Colorado State’s solid win against Colorado. That suggests the Rams will be tough for USU to beat in Fort Collins.

Otherwise, Wells is right when he says all that was lost Sunday was a one-game chance to beat a Southeastern Conference team — even if, in person, it looked and felt like two or three defeats.

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