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Jeffrey D. Allred/Deseret News

Special teams shines for Utes in 56-14 win over Idaho State

By Robert Jackson | Posted - Aug 28th, 2014 @ 9:22pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah football team opened its 2014 season Thursday night with a 56-14 win over Idaho State in front of an announced attendance of 45,925.

While the opponent may not have been the most exciting one that has crossed through the south end zone locker rooms onto the field at Rice-Eccles, the fans showed up, becoming the fifth largest crowd in school history.

For the fans, this was the first look at the 2014 Utes, and while their performance might not have been perfect, some areas were good, others bad and others were just OK.

Here's a breakdown.

The good:

  • Tempo: Utah's first four touchdown drives totaled just 3:46. No, that's not a typo. Utah's offense was electric, moving the ball with a sense of urgency under the direction of quarterback Travis Wilson. Wilson only played one half, but his numbers were great, passing 13-18 for 265 yards and added a two-yard touchdown run.
  • Special teams: The Utes special teams was exceptional against the Bengals. Extraordinary. Incredible. Utah's special teams were accountable for a kickoff return for a TD, punt return for a TD, a blocked field goal by Eric Rowe, a perfect 8-8 PATs by Andy Phillips, two Tom Hackett punts downed inside the 5 and a fake punt by Hackett that went for a gain of 28 and a Utah first down. Hackett has placed 12 punts inside the five-yard line in his career and 20 inside the 10-yard line.
  • Kaelin Clay: Speaking of all the incredible special teams play, it was PR/KR Kaelin Clay who was responsible for both special teams' touchdowns — a 46-yard punt return for TD which he then followed with a 100-yard kickoff return for TD. Clay is the first Pac-12 player to have a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown in a game since Cal's Deltha O'Neal accomplished the feat in 1999.
  • Dres Anderson: Is Dres Anderson one of the best wide receivers in the Pac-12? Anderson only played one half for the Utes, but it was an impressive half in which he totaled 111 yards on four catches, including a long of 48 yards. Anderson now has seven 100-yard receiving games, moving him into a tie for fourth all-time at Utah.
  • Defensive Ends: Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick combined for three sacks and 12 total tackles. The two ends were prolific in Utah's defensive effort.
  • Westlee Tonga: Utes' tight end Westlee Tonga had five catches for 61 yards. Two of the catches were spectacular, making both Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson look good.

Needs work:

  • Interior pass rush: Utah struggled at times getting pressure on Idaho State quarterback Justin Arias, who finished with two touchdown passes. Most of Utah's pressure on Arias came from the ends, which were a bright spot on Utah's defense. Expect Kyle Whittingham to take a hard look at the defensive front rotation.
  • Missed tackles: Utah's defensive performance featured plenty of missed tackles and over-pursuits. Not going to bite you against a team like Idaho State, but if not cleaned up it could spell trouble once conference play begins.
  • Allowing 100-yard rusher: Mostly due to the missed tackles and the inability to control the line, but Utah allowed a 100-yard rusher as Idaho State running back Xavier Finney picked up 133 yards on 23 carries.

The bad:

  • Pass defense: Utah's secondary was suspect against Idaho State. ISU picked up key third down conversions through the air. Again, while it didn't cost Utah against Idaho State, pass coverage needs to be an area of focus for Utah to be successful once Pac-12 play begins, let alone with Fresno State. Part of this is due to the inability of the interior defensive line to create any sort of pass rush, with the other part needing a better performance out of the cornerbacks.
  • Penalties: Utah piled up seven flags, accounting for 56 yards. Not terrible, but two of the penalties were late hits out of bounds that kept Idaho State drives alive.
  • Turnover margin: For a team that only had three interceptions in all of 2013, this looked like a prime matchup for Utah's secondary to break out and get off on the right foot with some INTs. That didn't happen, and Utah actually lost the turnover margin as running back Troy McCormick fumbled the ball and Idaho State recovered. That was the only turnover for either team.

Robert Jackson is the cross platform sports and weather producer for and KSL-TV. He has covered the Utes for KSL since 2008. You can catch him and co-host Brian Swinney Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. on the Ute Sports Report 1320 KFAN.

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