Utah football: Utes rout Idaho State, 56-14 in opener
The Utes got what everyone expected a win. A big, honking 56-14 win.
But Utah's opener was not without a dash of tension. Fans hoping for a demolition from start to finish were disappointed as Idaho State drove into Utah territory aiming to tie up the 7-point game.
But soon after Eric Rowe blocked the Bengals' 30-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter, the wrecking ball was unleashed.
Kaelin Clay electrified Rice-Eccles fifth-biggest crowd with both punt and kickoff returns for a touchdown. In the first half alone, Travis Wilson passed for 265 yards and one touchdown, catapulting himself over an Idaho State defender for a 2-yard rushing score. And Devontae Booker rushed 10 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns and took a Wilson screen pass 61 yards.
Dave Christensen's offense was as fast as advertised. Utah scored on drives of 16, 32 and 42 seconds.
Missing co-starting nickel back Justin Thomas for undisclosed reasons, Utah had some difficulty stopping Idaho State's passing attack, especially early.
Senior defensive end Nate Orchard powered through the Bengal line for 2.5 sacks, but Justin Arias showed some senior savvy of his own, leading an early scoring drive against a penalty-prone Utah defense. While the unit stiffened, the Utes still took some hits, notably giving up more than 100 yards rushing to their FCS foe.
Q4 10:05; Utah 49, Idaho State 14
Things have slowed to a crawl here at Rice-Eccles Stadium. With the Utes retaining a 35-point lead, the urgency isn't all there.
We're seeing a mixed back from the back-ups. The defense has done a decent job since giving up a third-quarter drive. Dominique Hatfield in particular is playing well with cornerback reps, and that may be an indication he could make a switch permanently. Up front, Lowell Lotulelei and Wallace Gonzalez are making a decent impression.
The offense hasn't done as well, lacking some of the explosiveness that built the lead. Kendal Thompson has had mixed success, rushing for only 7 yards but going 6-for-9 passing for 69 yards. Bubba Poole had a few runs and catches in the second half of note, which should be interesting setting up for the continuing Poole vs. Booker battle at running back.
Worth wondering: Where are the turnovers? Utah is still struggling to create turnovers even against Idaho State. That could be a concern going forward.
Q3 7:30; Utah 49, Idaho State 14
Kendal Thompson got a rude awakening taking the field as quarterback for the first time at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
A botched snap followed by a sack hardly a warm welcome.
But the Oklahoma transfer did make things happen and led a touchdown drive on his first drive, which was another score for Devontae Booker, by the way. Although the line seemed shaky in front of him and he's still holding on the ball a little longer than advised, his scrambling and ability to improvise on breakdowns help set his skill set apart.
The offense needed help from Tom Hackett, who had a nice punt fake run.
The second-team defense had a rough start as well, but couldn't turn it around. Idaho State had a nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive to get its second touchdown of the game. One of the lowlights was Boobie Hobbs drawing an obvious pass interference call, then giving up the touchdown.
Oh hey, Kaelin Clay just returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Second touch, second score. I guess Utah should figure out ways to get him involved.
Halftime; Utah 35, Idaho State 7
Utah fans can rest easy: The two-minute drill works just fine.
The Utes showcased just how dangerous its deep game can be: In three plays, Utah covered 74 yards and scored in 16 seconds of game time. Dres Anderson caught a 48-yard pass to kick it off, and Kenneth Scott finished it with a 26-yard toe-tapping catch that had to be reviewed.
It's no surprise that the Utes can get it done deep against the Bengals, but it's nice to know. The test will be next week against Fresno to see if Anderson and Scott look elite against a real secondary.
Utah's defense also started catching a rhythm after their first-quarter struggles. Going into the break, Justin Arias is 11-for-20 with 81 yards and three sacks against him. Xavier Finney's 82 yards and 5.5 yards per carry should be a concerning figure, however.
At the half, Utah has 379 offensive yards to Idaho State's 179. That's what you expect from a power conference school facing an FBS opponent. While there's been more hiccups than the Utes would like, they've answered plenty of questions as well with several explosive scoring plays.
Oh, and Travis Wilson? He's 13-for-18 for 265 yards, with one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. He's looked plenty in control, although he's been a little off-target on a few of his throws.
Q2 4:26; Utah 28, Idaho State 7
Kaelin Clay came to Utah with sky-high hopes, and did as much as anyone to put a wet blanket on them.
But cue the expectations again: On his first touch as a Ute, Clay took a punt return, danced, swung around and brought it 46 yards for a score. It's been one of the first times eyes outside of the program have seen the one-year transfer deliver on the promise that was so highly touted before his arrival.
It's also a nice pat on the back for the special teams unit as a whole. If you were wondering how the group is doing without Jay Hill, Utah has had some nice plays in that phase. Tom Hackett also showcased his versatility by pinning Idaho State on the 1-yard line.
Q2 12:09; Utah 21, Idaho State 7
Hey there, Devontae.
Devontae Booker has taken over as the featured back of this game, just breaking off a 38-yard run. Booker has a one-cut-and-go game that stands out against FCS defenders that don't have a prayer of catching him if he breaks a tackle. Booker could well be asserting himself as a starting candidate still, or at least for a bigger share of the carries.
His run was preceded by a nice Dres Anderson catch between two tacklers. The Utes won't learn much by sending their all-conference receiver deep against 5-foot-6 corners, but hey, at least they know it works.
The defense saved itself with its back against a wall again: Senior Nate Orchard had a third-down sack to force a field goal attempt, then Eric Rowe blocked it. Good leadership there.
Still, coverage has to be a concern. Davion Orphey and Wykie Freeman have not looked good so far. Orphey gave up a big reception with his receiver right behind him, and seemed to lose him for a moment. ISU can move the ball on this defense, which doesn't speak well to the ability to stop Marcus Mariota and Taylor Kelly.
Q1 2:16; Utah 14, Idaho State 7
The Leap should be a memorable highlight from a mostly forgettable game.
Travis Wilson answered some questions about his assertiveness by running around the right flank for a dive and a score. Wilson clearly isn't afraid to run it.
The Utes also saw a highlight from Devontae Booker, who had a nice catch and run down the sideline and nearly went to the house. He has natural speed and a style of running that the Utes love. It showed there.
Meanwhile ... spoke to soon on the defense?
Utah's defense will have a fun morning in the film room after an ugly drive in which they allowed Idaho State to drive 75 yards most of it on a big run by Xavier Finney and had two crucial penalties to help the Bengals score. Justin Arias tied it up with a itty-bitty touch pass.
Two guys who will get called out in the film room: Tevin Carter, who had a late hit, and Monte Seabrook, who was flagged for PI when he didn't realize there was a man behind him. It's also concerning that the defensive front started with a lineup of Sese Ianu, Filipo Mokofisi and Jason Fanaika who were all pulled as the Bengals got to the red zone.
Q1 9:40; Utah 7, Idaho State 0
The defense has done its part so far.
If Utah fans wanted to see domination, they've seen it from Nate Orchard and the front seven. In two series, the Utes have gotten two sacks, including 1.5 from the senior captain.
Idaho State has gone worse than nowhere: It's gone backward 7 yards.
Utah's defense looks stout early, so that phase of the game should be reassuring to fans. The retooled offense on the other hand needed a bit of a kick after an initial 3-and-out.
Bubba Poole fueled the drive, following up a 17-yard punt return with two runs for 22 yards for the Utes' opening score with 9:40 left in the first quarter. While he did see some stiff competition from Devontae Booker this spring, he's making a claim to his starting job here. He broke a few tackles on his way to the end zone, and has looked pretty nimble so far.
In two possessions, Utah has only required 1:53 of time. That's the quickness the Utes promised.
We're just ahead of kickoff, and it's perfect football weather: 75 degrees and sunny. Rice-Eccles Stadium is filling up for the Stripe the Stadium promotion, and the Utes have warmed up.
Utah is heavily favored for this game, with some spreads coming in at more than 40 points.There's not much on the line for the Utes in the win column, but the debut of a new offense coached by Dave Christensen and the return of several starters including Travis Wilson, Brian Blechen and Kenneth Scott provide some good storylines.
You can check this link for live analysis and updates of Utah football's first game against Idaho State. We'll be updating it continuously through the end of the game.
For background, you can read our online game guide to get some things to watch for in tonight's action. We kick off at 5:30 p.m. Stay tuned.