Utah Utes take stock of the offense while looking ahead to Fresno State
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — As the Utah Utes look ahead to Saturday’s game against Fresno State at Rice-Eccles Stadium, they do so with a few thoughts on their mind from last week’s 56-14 season-opening win over Idaho State.
Following the victory, starting quarterback Travis Wilson noted that the Utes have a lot of resources on offense. Contributions were plentiful as they racked up 589 yards against the Bengals.
“There’s definitely a lot of weapons that I can use and definitely a lot of places where I can spread the ball around,” Wilson said. “I think everyone’s getting better and getting on the same page.”
Wilson, who only played in the first half, completed 13-of-18 passes for 265 yards and one touchdown. The junior also dove into the end zone for a 2-yard score in his first game since Nov. 9.
“I think it was very obvious that he has no hesitation whatsoever and no concern about the head injury that we were dealing with,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Other standouts on offense included running back Devontae Booker (78 yards rushing, two touchdowns), tight end Westlee Tonga (five receptions), and the receiving duo of Dres Anderson (four catches for 111 yards) and Kenneth Scott (four catches, one TD).
As for the debut of Utah’s more up-tempo offense, Whittingham offered a mixed review.
“I don’t think it was great but it was good,” he said. “It was very good.”
The Utes, Whittingham mentioned, had a lot of quick-strike drives. Three touchdown marches lasted less than 42 seconds.
And that was with much of the playbook still sealed.
“Obviously we didn’t showcase the whole offense,” Wilson said. “But I think we executed what we had in the game plan.”
Even so, there are still things to work out — on both sides of the ball.
“I was expecting to be more dominating up front,” said Whittingham, who really emphasized a need for improved play on the line of scrimmage.
Giving up 179 rushing yards in the opener also didn’t sit too well with the coach, or the players for that matter.
Senior defensive end Nate Orchard, who shared game-high honors with eight tackles and topped everyone with 2.5 sacks, was asked what he would like to see the Utes do differently against Fresno State.
“Just guys doing what they’re supposed to do. I know it’s frustrating because sometimes you kind of want to freelance and do what you are used to doing,” Orchard said. “But we practice a lot of technique stuff, and it’s crucial.”
Orchard explained that it’s just the little details that everyone needs to stick to.
“That’s what is going to help us in the run game and the pass — is guys just doing their responsibility,” he said.
CATCHING ON: Prior to making a game-high five catches in Thursday’s opener, Tonga had just seven receptions over 25 games with the Utes. In addition, his 61 receiving yards against the Bengals nearly eclipsed his career total of 79.
“I think tonight he did a great job of making good catches in the right spot at the right time,” Wilson said. “(He’s) definitely a person I can count on to make the big plays.”
Tonga’s one-game stats were higher than any of his previous season totals.
GETTING STARTED: Several Utes made their first career starts on Thursday — sophomore right tackle J.J. Dielman, sophomore receiver Delshawn McClellon, sophomore center Hiva Lutui, junior nose tackle Clint Shepard, senior safety Tevin Carter and senior nickel back Wykie Freeman. Lutui and Freeman started in place of Siaosi Aiono and Justin Thomas, respectively, who are expected to play this week after missing the opener for reasons Whittingham did not disclose.
EXTRA POINTS: Utah has now won seven consecutive season openers, including six-in-a-row up on the hill. The addition of 790 seats has raised capacity at Rice-Eccles Stadium to 45,807. Thursday’s attendance was announced as 45,925, the fifth-largest gathering in school history and the 26th straight sellout. Over the past four seasons, the Utes have topped Big Sky Conference opponents (Montana State, Northern Colorado, Weber State and Idaho State) by a combined score of 194-31.
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