SALT LAKE CITY — Utah quarterback Travis Wilson got right back in the mix in Thursday’s 56-14 win over Idaho State. The junior, who missed the last three games of 2013 when an intracranial artery injury threatened his career, made an impact in his return.
In his 17th overall start for the Utes, Wilson completed 13-of-18 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown — doing it all in the first half. He also made a spectacular 2-yard dive into the end zone for what proved to be the go-ahead score late in the opening quarter.
“It was great. I feel really blessed to have the opportunity to come back and play,” Wilson said. “It is great to be back with this team and these coaches.”
Wilson was among several individual standouts for the Utes in the lopsided season-opening victory.
Return specialist Kaelin Clay had quite a debut. The senior returned a punt 46 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and followed it up in the third by taking a kickoff back 100 yards for a score.
“He had a great game and gave the team a lot of energy,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who noted that special teams play was solid.
Tom Hackett averaged 46.8 yards on five punts and pinned three inside the 20. He also ran 28 yards for a first down on fourth-and-17 from the Utah 18-yard line early in the second half.
Kicker Andy Phillips also had a good outing — making all eight of his PATs and recording touchbacks on all of his kickoffs. Eric Rowe was also a special teams standout, blocking an Idaho State field goal attempt. He also made contributions on defense — starting at cornerback with three tackles (one behind the line of scrimmage) and a pass breakup.
Defensively, the Utes weren’t all that happy that Idaho State wound up with 179 yards rushing. Running back Xavier Finney finished with a game-high 133 yards on 23 carries. The Bengals wound up with 337 yards of total offense and 21 first downs.
Although the Utes failed to get a takeaway, they did make eight tackles-for-loss and record four sacks.
“We were very average. We gave away a ton of big plays to the offense, especially in the rushing game,” said defensive end Nate Orchard, who made a game-high 2.5 sacks despite playing just half the 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.”
The Utes return to action Sept. 6 at Rice-Eccles Stadium against Fresno State.
EXTRA POINTS: Utah had nine players catch passes in the game. Tight end Westlee Tonga led the way with five. Wide receivers Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott each finished with four. Anderson had a team-high 111 yards, his seventh career 100-yard receiving game. Eight Utes rushed for positive yardage. Devontae Booker topped the team with 78 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries. Wilson, Kendal Thompson and Brandon Cox combined to complete 22-of-31 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown. Linebacker Jared Norris and Orchard shared team-high honors with eight tackles apiece. Defensive lineman Lowell Lotulelei had 1.5 tackles-for-loss, one sack and a forced fumble. Seven Utah defenders contributed to stops behind the line of scrimmage. Versatile sophomore Dominique Hatfield saw action at wide receiver and cornerback. As a defender, he had a game-high two pass breakups.