SALT LAKE CITY — Well, the first game is in the books and while it was a little nerve-wracking for the Utes after the first quarter, Utah breezed to a 56-14 win over the Idaho State Bengals Thursday night.
It wasn’t necessarily the Utes’ best possible game, but they did cover their 41.5-point spread in Vegas with the 42-point victory.
Scoring recap: After a series of quick, short drives and punts early on, the Utes got on the board first with a 6-yard touchdown rush by Bubba Poole six minutes into the game.
The Bengals, however, wasted no time retaliating. Xavier Finney broke out a 34-yard run on ISU’s first play from scrimmage on the very next drive. They eventually drove the ball down 75 yards down the field for a score when Justin Arias found Broc Malcolm with a perfectly placed ball in the back of the end zone.
The Utes, with their high-speed offense, got the lead right back though. Travis Wilson capped off an eight-play, 75-yard drive by diving head first into the end zone for the score.
The Bengals were driving down the field again for an answer, but after their drive fizzled, Utah cornerback Eric Rowe blocked a field-goal attempt. The Utes scored four plays later on a 38-yard DeVontae Booker touchdown carry early in the second quarter.
The Utes extended their lead midway through the second quarter on a 46-yard punt return by Kaelin Clay. Utah scored once again before the half when Wilson connected with Kenneth Scott who dragged his foot in for the scored with 19 seconds left in the half.
Utah started the second half with a new offense led by Kendal Thompson. After a slow start, Thompson led the Utes down the field on the first drive of the half. Booker pounded in a 4-yard carry for a score.
After a 6-yard touchdown pass by Arias to K.W. Williams, Clay returned the ensuing the kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to give Utah a 49-14 lead.
The Utes scored one last time in the final two minutes of the game when third-string quarterback Brandon Cox ran in a 16-yard carry for a touchdown.
Kaelin Clay, WR/Return Specialist
Special teams dominated the game without a doubt Thursday. Although the honor goes to Clay, each member of the special teams made an impact. Rowe blocked a field goal, Tom Hackett downed a couple of punts inside the 5-yard line (and converted a fourth down with a 28-yard run) and Utah connected on all eight of its PAT attempts.
However, Clay will get the credit here. He returned a punt 46 yards for a score on his first touch of the football as a Ute. He later returned a kickoff 100 yards for another score. Oh, and that landed him No. 1 on Sports Center Top 10 plays. He definitely was the star of Thursday’s game.
DeVontae Booker, RB
There was no shortage of stars offensively either. While Wilson certainly played well, Booker was the guy that made the biggest difference. The junior combined to pick up 139 total yards on 10 carries and a reception. His 61-yard catch and run ended just shy of the end zone, but set up Wilson’s touchdown to give the Utes a 14-7 lead. He burst through the middle for a 38-yard touchdown later in the first half. He then scored his second touchdown in the second half.
Nate Orchard, DE
Orchard had himself a monster first half where he picked up 2.5 sacks. He eventually led the defense with 2.5 sacks and also with eight total tackles. The defense struggled a bit, especially with containing the run. ISU racked up 179 net rushing yards, but the Bengals’ O-line struggled with Orchard when he was in the game.
Analyzing the stats
- The Utes’ high-tempo offense was full force. Despite winning 56-14, Utah lost the time of possession battle rather badly, 34:41 to 25:19. That’s because Utah put together three offensive scoring drives in four plays or less and two special teams scores. Utah put together three scoring drives with each taking less than one minute to complete (35, 82, 74).
- The longest scoring drive came in the fourth quarter when Brandon Cox led a 13-play drive that lasted 5:31. The longest scoring drive with Wilson under center went 2:16.
- Clay’s punt and kick return for touchdowns were the first by a Pac-12 player in one game since Cal’s Deltha O’Neal in 1999. In each case, each returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. While Clay’s punt return was 46 yards, O’Neal’s was 58 yards.
- Utah’s top two running backs, Booker and Poole, combined to average nearly 10.5 yards per touch (rushes and catches). The duo also combined for three rushing touchdowns.
- Utah improved to 37-0 against current Big Sky Conference members with the win.
- Idaho State averaged 94.2 rushing yards per game last season, but nearly doubled that average with 179 net yardage running the ball. ISU also averaged 4.1 yards per carry — 1.1 yards per carry more than its rushing average last season. Xavier Finney led the Bengals rushers with 133 yards on 23 carries (5.8 yards per carry).
Next week: The Utes have a couple of extra days to rest up for their game against Fresno State. The Bulldogs will open their season on Saturday against USC and all eyes will be on whomever the quarterback is replacing Derek Carr — Brandon Connette or Brian Burrell.
Even without Carr, the reigning Mountain West Conference champion will look to build off its 2013 season where the Bulldogs went 11-2.