SALT LAKE CITY — No. 11 Utah accomplished exactly what it wanted in its nonconference slate: a 3-0 record before jumping into conference play.
Utah handled the Idaho State Bengals 31-0 in a penciled in win for the season, and will now prepare for a hostile Los Angeles environment against a USC team looking to answer back from a 30-27 overtime loss to BYU.
Here are a few takeaways from Utah’s afternoon win at home.
Zack Moss unleashes
There’s no question that Zack Moss is one of the most talented athletes on the field wherever he plays. It will be a constant theme throughout the season for a guy with so much ability and physicality. He’s patient, attacks the creases with force and makes opposing defenses pay big.
That was most prevalent on the first play of the game when Moss escaped for a 38-yard run down the sideline before being brought down inside the red zone. He followed that up later in the quarter with a 39-yard run that could have ended with a touchdown, but the refs called him down at the 1-yard line.
The senior finished with 106 rushing yards on the day and sat for nearly three quarters of the game. Moss now holds the No. 2 all-time record in career rushing yards and needs just 196 yards to eclipse the all-time record.
It’s safe to say that Moss should have that in the bag, barring injury.
Behind Moss, though, there’s a significant dropoff at the running back position. Utah has the bodies to be able to compete after Moss, but they don’t have the physicality and abusive style of play that Moss exhibits on the field. Freshman Jordan Wilmore continues to get better and has flashes of play similar to Moss, but he’s still got a ways to come before Utah can experiment with its depth.
Tyler Huntley is having a year
It’s easy to overreact to Tyler Huntley having a solid year, but it’s arguably his best play of his career at Utah. The opponents aren’t close to what he’ll face in conference play, but he’s doing a solid job competing and putting his team in position to succeed, which is far more impressive than some recent predecessors.
Huntley finished the day throwing for 282 yards and three touchdowns on 15-of-19 passing (78.9%) and was the clear leader of the offense. For a team that hasn’t shown much of its offensive playbook, Huntley has orchestrated it well and is giving the offense all the power to succeed.
The senior quarterback has still managed to escape a sack and looks composed in the pocket. He’s not afraid to stay a little longer in the pocket to get the ball out to his receivers or pull it in for a run. Huntley showcased his ability to keep plays alive Saturday with several deep passes that went for long touchdowns.
But what may have been the most impressive pass of the day was a 23-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Thompson in the end zone. Thompson had a defender right on his heels, but Huntley delivered the ball with precision for the touchdown strike.
The competition will certainly be better in the coming weeks, but Huntley has shown he can make the quick reads, play in the intermediary and connect on deep passes for high-profile plays, all while being turnover free.
Bryan Thompson has arrived
The long-awaited arrival of redshirt sophomore Bryan Thompson is here. The heralded receiver, who has dealt with injuries the last two seasons, finally got an opportunity to showcase his ability Saturday with several big plays against the Idaho State defense, including an 82-yard touchdown catch and a 23-yard toe-tapping catch in the end zone from Huntley.
Both catches were the only catches of the game for Thompson, but he’s shown the last few weeks to be a reliable downfield threat for Utah in the passing game. Utah has been relatively vanilla in the passing game so far this season, but Thompson has shown he can be a weapon as the offense open up the playbook.
Adding Thompson to the already established playmakers of season’s past should give Utah a plethora of targets in the passing game, and a fun look at things to come for the Utah offense.
Honorable mention: defensive power
The three takeaways above were all focused on the offense, but the defense did nothing short of brilliance against the Bengals. The defense held Idaho State scoreless and didn’t allow the Bengals to make any real threat at a score. It may be an FCS opponent, but even with Utah’s defensive depth being utilized, there was little Idaho State could do.
If the offense can continue to showcase its talent and the defense can continue to be what it traditionally has been, Utah will be well on its way to reaching its lofty goals on the season. There will be issues as the season progresses, but it’s worth celebrating the success both sides of the ball are having this season.