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Brad Rock: What the Utes now know: very little

By Brad Rock, Deseret News

Published: Thu, Aug. 28 10:59 p.m. MDT

 Utah Utes celebrates their win over Idaho State and sing the school fight song during PAC 12 action in Salt Lake City Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Utah won 56-14.

Utah Utes celebrates their win over Idaho State and sing the school fight song during PAC 12 action in Salt Lake City Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Utah won 56-14.

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The offense was swift and sure, the defense an impenetrable wall. Special teams were special indeed. And all the coaches were smarter than smart.

If only they knew for sure.

The Utes opened their season with a 56-14 win over Idaho State, Thursday, answering one question but leaving blank the one that matters most: Does this translate into the serious games? When playing a team with a 45-game road losing streak, it’s a lot like asking your wife, “How do I look?”

The most honest response: “Compared to what?”

So the Utes are All-World, one night into football season. They did what they should have, dismantling the Bengals in the first half and subbing in the reserves early. But there’s only so much to learn from a rehearsal.

One sure thing they proved is that they aren’t too cool for class. They went at ISU like they were going after the Michigan Wolverines — which they will in three weeks. Meanwhile, the Bengals of the Big Sky Conference will have to do.

“I’m not sure how much more we know about our team right now than we did before the game,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.

The 2014 version of the Utes brought a dose of newness. Along with the up-tempo offense and backup quarterback Kendal Thompson, there was a new hole in the stadium. Crews recently removed the Hoberman Arch, which had been in the southeast corner since the 2002 Olympics, looping across the sky like a Ferris wheel.

But fans arrived Thursday to the sight of a scraped but fenced-off dirt area where the Arch once sat. It was fairly symbolic: tearing down last year’s worries and putting something less cluttered in its place.

Not long after the fans were seated, the scoring began.

It was mostly what the Utes had hoped. Whittingham singled out a lack of scrimmage domination and no takeaways as disappointments, special teams and kicking as key positives. Still, the Utes allowed only one touchdown with the starters.

“We were very average,” said defensive end Nate Orchard.

The quarterbacking was good, with no interceptions and a combined 22-32 for three 351 yards, spread among Thompson, Travis Wilson and Brandon Cox. Junior college transfer Kaelin Clay scored off both a punt and a kickoff, one of them field-length.

Coordinator Dave Christensen’s offense was quick and forceful, rolling for 589 yards — good news for a team that finished 11th in total offense and 10th in scoring offense in the conference, last year. Yet Utah has played these games before and it has shed little light on the issue.

Often these games are considered a mockery — with good reason. Historically they’re as one-sided as a tax audit. Last time Utah played an FCS team was in 2013, when it beat Weber State 70-7. In 2012 it was 41-0 over Northern Colorado. In 2011 the Utes got a slight scare, beating Montana State 27-10. But in 2006, it was 45-7 over Northern Arizona.

In 2012 and 2013, large margins against small teams didn’t avert bad seasons. In 2011, they struggled to beat MSU, yet went 8-5 and won a bowl game.

All in all, Thursday was the sort of result that’s expected when FCS and FBS teams meet in the early season.

“We fell in the well,” said ISU coach Mike Kramer. “We set a goal to get a drink out of the bucket and we fell all the way in.”

While his candidness was refreshing, truth is the Utes needed Thursday’s game more than the Bengals. When there’s not another sure win on the horizon, it’s good to take the candy.

“We expected to be more dominating up front,” Whittingham said.

He had a point. In the end, such wins are like doing push-ups from the knees: a false sense of accomplishment. And everyone goes home with what they thought they’d get. The Bengals got a $400,000 check, the Utes got a live workout.

Plus the sense they’d win the Big Sky Conference, going away.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged

Utah Utes post-game presser vs. Idaho State

Kyle Whittingham post-game press conference - Idaho State

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1. Uteology
East Salt Lake City, Utah,
Aug. 28, 2014

I disagree, against Weber State and Norther Colorado I didn't come out of those games feeling we had depth at QB like I did today. In fact, against Northern Colorado I wasn't impressed with Wynn at all.

Next game will be the true test, but I think this game showed that we might be over our issues on offense that have plagued us over the past few years.

2. gdog3finally
West Jordan, Utah,
Aug. 28, 2014

Assuming the offense keeps getting better and stays away from injury (especially Travis Wilson), then Utah looks like they have some offensive firepower. It's been 5 years since the Utes were a potent offense. The concern I have is the defense. Although Utah's defense has been consistently solid under Whitt as a DC and HC, right now they have some issues. They are thin at LB and need Jacoby Hale and Gionni Paul healthy. Eric Rowe is a talent but is he at the right position? Who might be capable to fill in if Rowe was moved to safety and Blechen to LB where he is more needed. Does he even have gas left in the tank? Utah is inexperienced despite their talent. It will be disappointing if the Utes finally gain an offense on a season where the defense is declining. BYU knows about this as their dominating defense was let down during the Riley Nelson era. You have got to have solid play in all phases in a season to have a special year. With Utah's schedule, they will need a balanced team to stay afloat in the PAC.

3. sammyg
Springville, UT,
Aug. 29, 2014

"In the end, such wins are like doing push-ups from the knees: a false sense of accomplishment. And everyone goes home with what they thought they’d get. The Bengals got a $400,000 check, the Utes got a live workout."

The Bengals scored two and a check which is more than the Utes get out of this one. Unless of course you are so desperate to find that one pivotal game to get you over the hump to a winning season.

We can see where this program has gone since joining a so called 'elite' conference.

That was an 'elite' win last night.

4. Cali blue
Coalinga, CA,
Aug. 29, 2014

A Thursday night game against a FCS opponent, I couldn't get on the TV. Good see the Utes were able to pull off an upset!

5. BYUalum
South Jordan, UT,
Aug. 29, 2014

Brad Rock: As always....blunt and honest!