Winning isn’t everything

Photo by Conor Barry

Photo by Conor Barry

As expected, the Utes took care of business Thursday night by soundly beating the Idaho State Bengals 56-14 in front of their home crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utah offense put up an impressive 589 yards of total offense, with star players such as junior quarterback Travis Wilson, senior receiver Dres Anderson, junior receiver Kenneth Scott and junior running back Devontae Booker doing all of their work in the first half of play.

The Utes received a giant boost from their special teams units. Senior receiver Kaelin Clay made a splash in his Utah debut, returning a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns, and junior punter Tom Hackett pinned the Bengals inside their own 5-yard line twice while also rushing 28 yards for a first down in the third quarter.

While the Utes continued their winning ways against members of the Big Sky conference (37-0) and won their seventh consecutive season opener, not all was positive in the eyes of head coach Kyle Whittingham, his staff or his players.

“The big disappointment was not dominating and controlling the line of scrimmage like I anticipated,” Whittingham said. “We gave up too much at the line of scrimmage and allowed too many rushing yards. We were too soft against the run.”

On the night, the Utes allowed 179 yards rushing from Idaho State. But, if sacks taken were not counted against a team’s rushing total, that number would have jumped up to 206 yards. That’s a total defensive captain and senior defensive end Nate Orchard was not happy to see.

“We were very average,” Orchard said of the defensive line’s play Thursday. “We gave away a ton of big plays to the offense, especially in the rushing game. In the end we came out victorious, but we will have to go back and look at the film and see what corrections we can make.”

Offensively, the Utes made fewer mistakes and continually executed their revamped offense. Whittingham was pleased with the way his offense handled the up-tempo style of play, but made it known that he wants to see longer drives in the future.

“I thought [tempo] was good, I don’t think it was great, but it was good,” he said. “It was a lot of quick-strike drives, not so many sustained drives. As far as getting on the ball, getting it snapped, getting back on the ball and the mechanics of it all, I thought it was pretty good.”

The Utes’ time of possession totaled 25:19, nearly 10 minutes less than ISU, who finished with 34:41 of total possession. The Utes were out-possessed in every quarter but the fourth and averaged just over six minutes of possession per quarter. The Utes’ scoring drives were also only 1 minute and 42 seconds on average, making the offense effective but not entirely dominating.

Wilson was the man making that offense work in the first half, finishing his night going 13-for-18 for 265 yards passing with a pair of touchdowns (one through the air, another on the ground). He credits the offensive success to the new scheme and the plethora of talented players surrounding him.

“It’s nice to have Kenneth Scott back and to have [junior receiver] Tim Patrick as well. There are definitely a lot of weapons that will allow us to spread the ball around,” Wilson said. “We seem to be getting better, and all of us are getting on the same page.”

Wilson spread the ball around amongst his weapons Thursday as eight different Utah receivers caught passes. Anderson led the receivers with 111 yards receiving on four receptions, followed by tight end Westlee Tonga with 61 yards on five receptions and Scott with 57 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. Other Utes who caught passes included Bubba Poole, Kaelin Clay, Delshawn McClellon, Devontae Booker, Tim Patrick and Dominique Hatfield.

Next up for the Utes is a clash with Fresno State. The Bulldogs are coming off of a 52-13 drubbing by No. 15 USC in which Trojan quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns. Surely Whittingham and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen are more than excited to see what their up-tempo offense can do to the Bulldog defense, but Whittingham is keeping his team cautious and ready for what will surely be a much better test than Idaho State.

“They’re an athletic team. I know they didn’t fare too well against the Trojans, but they do have good players,” Whittingham said of Fresno State. “They’ve certainly gotten all our attention, all our respect; they’ve won 20-plus games over the last two years. Essentially, they were one game away from the BCS last year, so even though last week was not real competitive, we fully realize how good they are.”

The Utah vs. Fresno State game will take place at Rice-Eccles Stadium this Saturday, September 6. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. MT.

t.chappell@chronicle.utah.edu

@TalonChappell

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