The first officiating review in a series of three consecutive plays lasted seemingly forever Saturday afternoon, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham twirled his fingers in a motion that suggested, “Let's go!”
By halftime of a 31-0 victory over Idaho State at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Whittingham and everybody else attached attached to the No. 11 Utes were ready to move on to Pac-12 play. “We've got bigger tests ahead,” Whittingham said, “and we know that.”
The degree of difficulty increases beginning Friday, when Utah (3-0) will visit a USC team that’s temporarily ranked in the ÅP Top 25 and reeling from a 30-27 overtime loss at BYU. Asked if the comparison of the teams’ performances in Provo this season is favorable to the Utes, running back Zack Moss replied, “Encouraging? I wouldn’t say that. But it’s a good, little wound for them, and we’re going to go and add to that next week.”
A victory for Utah in the Los Angeles Coliseum would rewrite a lot of frustrating history for the program in this decade. As for the current team, the Utes have done pretty much all that could be expected of them in wins over BYU, Northern Illinois and Idaho State.
Utah “left a lot of points on the field” against ISU (1-1), Ute quarterback Tyler Huntley said. Yet the Utes made much easier work of the Bengals than they did against Big Sky Conference opponents Southern Utah, North Dakota and Weber State the previous three seasons.
These checkpoints illustrated the Utes' dominance:
• Zack Moss had run for 106 yards and Huntley had passed for 200 yards and two touchdowns as of halftime, when Utah led 24-0. The Utes could have added another score, but Huntley fumbled the snap on a fourth-and-goal play at the ISU 1-yard line.
• No. 2 quarterback Drew Lisk replaced Huntley midway through the third quarter, the earliest appearance for a Utah backup QB in at least six years (Jason Shelley appeared in the fourth period).
• The stands were mostly empty by the start of the fourth period, after Utah announced a 59th straight sellout crowd (45, 989).
• ISU reached 100 total yards only in the final five minutes of the game, long after the Utes had topped 500 yards.
Whittingham didn't like all of the penalties committed by reserve offensive players in the second half. Utah also committed its first turnover of the season when receiver Britain Covey fumbled after making a catch in the fourth quarter.
NO. 11 UTAH 31, IDAHO STATE 0
• No. 11 Utah beats Idaho State 31-0, moving to 26-1 in regular-season nonconference games in the program’s Pac-12 era.
• Ute quarterback Tyler Huntley passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns, two to Bryan Thompson, in 2½ quarters.
• Utah will begin Pac-12 play Friday at No. 24 USC.
Otherwise, the Utes couldn't have asked for a more stress-free exercise to conclude nonconference play. The defense delivered the program's first shutout since the 2016 opener vs. Southern Utah, Moss rested the entire second half after becoming Utah's No. 2 all-time rusher and Huntley hit Bryan Thompson for two touchdown passes, with Brant Kuithe catching another.
Injuries affected Thompson in his first two years in the program, but he's healthy and productive now. In the past two games, he made receptions of 28, 38, 82 and 23 yards.
“He's doing a great job of getting open, making big plays down the field,” Huntley said. “Love having him out there.”
Thompson believes his contribution “means a lot to [Moss] too,” he said. “I don't think [defenses] can just focus on the run, especially if we stretch the field.”
Huntley completed 15 of 19 passes for 282 yards in 2½ quarters, while avoiding any sacks for a third week in a row. He had to dodge the rush more than usual early in the game, and Moss also was hit in the backfield a couple of times — including the play he turned into a 39-yard gain on Utah’s second possession.
Utah used a makeshift offensive line for the second straight week, as guard Johnny Maea and center Orlando Umana again were held out due to injury. Whittingham is hopeful they will play against USC, along with safety Julian Blackmon, who was replaced by sophomore R.J. Hubert in a secondary that held ISU to 80 yards passing.
USC and Washington State, Utah’s next two opponents, won’t take long to exceed that total. As of Saturday, though, the Utes liked where they stood three games into the season. Now comes the Pac-12 schedule, with nine games between now and the end of November that will determine where this team goes from here.