Utes tighten their pass coverage in shutout of Idaho State

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive back Jaylon Johnson (1) jumps over Utah Utes defensive back JaTravis Broughton (4) after Broughton caught a deflected pass to win possession as the University of UtahÕs RunninÕ Utes host Idaho State Bengals in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.

Idaho State quarterbacks Matt Struck and Gunnar Amos are not quite like USC's Kedon Slovis or Washington State's Anthony Gordon, the passers Utah will face in Pac-12 play before September ends.

Yet everything about the way Utah's secondary performed in Saturday's 31-0 victory was encouraging, after the Utes had allowed some big yardage totals in the first halves of games against BYU and Northern Illinois. ISU posted 80 yards through the air, after Struck passed for 402 yards and four touchdowns in a season-opening defeat of Division II opponent Western Colorado.

The Bengals would have recorded ever fewer yards, but Ute linebacker Andrew Mata'afa missed a great chance for an interception in the last five minutes. His deflection turned into a 17-yard catch for ISU's Michael Dean and the play lifted the Bengals above 100 total yards for the game. Three of ISU's nine first downs came via Utah penalties.

Ute freshman cornerback JaTravis Broughton intercepted a pass early in the fourth quarter and Struck and Amos combined to complete 10 of 23 passes. Utah's first shutout since the 2016 season opener vs. Southern Utah came with a secondary that was missing star safety Julian Blackmon. R.J. Hubert filled in for him.

“The throwing numbers were not very good for the opponents,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We played good coverage; the pass rush was pretty good.”

Hubert was credited with six tackles, supporting linebacker Devin Lloyd, whose nine stops included 3.5 tackles for loss (with one sack). Utah also notched a team sack when Struck gave into the rush.

“There's some things we need to address on offense,” ISU coach Rob Phenicie said. “But we protected [the quarterbacks] a lot better than I thought we could.”

The Bengals never advanced beyond Utah's 42-yard line, though, while running only 46 offensive plays and possessing the ball for less than 23 minutes.

“We were solid overall,” Lloyd said. “We wanted some more turnovers, some more interceptions, but I think we played solid all around.”

The Utes moved to 8-0 against Big Sky Conference opponents in the program's nine-year Pac-12 era. That includes shutouts of Northern Colorado (2012) and SUU, while the Utes have allowed an average of 7.1 points in eight games.

Montana State will fill that spot on Utah’s 2020 schedule, to be followed by Weber State in ’21 and ’23 and SUU in ’22 and ’24.