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Monson: Not much excitement in Utes' opener

Published August 29, 2014 10:05 am

College football • Beating up a bad Big Sky team doesn't reveal much about Utah
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

OK, then, the gimme is out of the way.

The only gimme.

Chances are that Thursday night's top-popping result — a 56-14 curb-stomp of Idaho State — will be the Utes' only six-touchdown win of the season. And that lopsided showing probably made everyone at Rice-Eccles Stadium, outside of Utah's coaches, glad the rest of the Ute games will be a whole lot more arduous, gut-wrenching — and entertaining.

Kyle Whittingham said it straight with these words afterward: "Not sure how much more we know about our team after tonight."

Let's say it like it is, again, then: The Bengals are not a good college football team. Yeah, they're student-athletes and all, they're kids, they're trying the best they can, they're not really to be blamed for their comparative limitations, but … how you say? … they struggle at football. ISU hasn't won a road game since 2006. It's now lost 45 straight. That's not a fluke. That's not a trend. That's a long, punitive run of hard time. Pocatello, henceforth, should be banned from being entrusted with or subjected to any kind of college football experience.

It was easy to feel sorry for the Bengals.

Their quarterback — Justin Arias — is pretty decent, in a Big Sky kind of way. Same with their offense. They gained 337 yards — which is either a compliment to them or an indictment against the Ute defense. In fact, in judging Utah in this game, the Modified Stableford Scoring System of Playing Bad Big Sky Teams must be employed. If Idaho State put up 337, your average Pac-12 offense would have doubled that.

"Poor gap control," Whittingham said. "We need to get better."

Thursday night, it didn't matter.

The Utes didn't really win this game. They were handed it — the day the deal was signed to play the thing. It was a rather simple exchange: Utah agreed to pay Idaho State a load of money and the Utes were allowed to have their way with the Bengals. If that kind of agreement were made and followed through on anywhere but on a football field, the vice squad would have come in and arrested everybody involved.

It would be easy to rip Utah for doing this deal, except that the degree of difficulty on the rest of its schedule is akin to scaling the face of El Capitan while wearing oven mitts. We'll give the Utes the benefit of the doubt, but there is no reason to give them much credit for what transpired here. It was pretty much what it was supposed to be — a sip of nectar, albeit stale nectar, without much satisfaction.

Those who presumed the Ute coaching staff had to go 6-6 this season to save their jobs were wrong. They had to go 5-6, because Game 1 was an automatic.

Travis Wilson went ahead and threw for 265 yards on 13 of 18 passing, including 1 touchdown, in the first half. Kendal Thompson came on in the second and hit 6 of 10 throws for 69 yards and ran for 20. Wilson looked the better of the two QBs. At half's end, he directed a sparkling 3-play, 74-yard TD drive in 16 seconds, making it 35-7.

Utah's new offense seemed bored against such an opponent. With new coordinator Dave Christensen at the wheel, the attack was mostly balanced, throwing the ball for 351 yards, running it for 238.

"We didn't showcase the whole offense," Wilson said.

The defense, as mentioned, looked like a hot mess at times, nearly allowing ISU to tie the score at 14 early in the second and later playing inconsistent. "[We were] very average," said senior defensive end Nate Orchard. "Guys coming off their assignments. Not doing what they were supposed to do."

Special teams, however, was a sizeable Utah bonus with Kaelin Clay returning a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns.

Whatever.

The Bengals got their money, the Utes got their win, and nobody got arrested by the cops for illicit behavior. And the voyeurs, the 45,000 fans who loaded into Rice-Eccles on Thursday night, got a small taste of football, which seemed to at least partially fill a belly that had been growling for nine months.

From here on out, that taste will be bigger, that belly force-fed more fare than it can easily consume. We'll find out, week by week, how good the Utes really are. Not tonight. There are no more automatics. Everything from here on out will be hard and hard-won.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.