SALT LAKE CITY — Whether by plan or bad luck, the Bengals ended up in the exact position many people thought they might — playing two quarterbacks, with neither separating themselves during Saturday’s 31-0 loss at Utah.
Junior Matt Struck, who played the entire game last week against Western Colorado, played the first three drives for Idaho State.
On the fourth drive, senior Gunnar Amos trotted out to take the snaps in his first action of the season.
According to head coach Rob Phenicie, that appearance for Amos was part of ISU’s pregame plan.
Amos’ first drive was a three-and-out, and Struck came back to start the next drive for the Bengals — only to take a massive hit in ISU’s end zone that kept Idaho State’s drive alive thanks to a targeting penalty, but also ended his night.
Amos played the rest of the first half and the entire second half for ISU.
Struck remained standing on the sideline for the rest of the game. It’s unknown what his status is, or whether he was cleared to return to the game, only to be kept on the bench as a precautionary measure.
Either way, neither quarterback was effective — not surprising against Utah’s defense.
With the Utes’ pass rush in their faces, both Struck and Amos struggled, often missing receivers by yards.
Amos finished 7 for 17 for 52 yards and an interception. Struck was 3 of 6 for 28 yards.
Amos had the best throw of the day, hitting Tanner Conner for 17 yards over the middle, but also threw the Bengals’ one interception.
That one wasn’t necessarily his fault, as his pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but he narrowly dodged turnovers on a few other throws as well.
“(Amos) got into a little rhythm here and there, but we’ve got to keep growing at that position,” Phenicie said.
Struck’s status clouds things. If he’s 100 percent, the bet is that he’s still ISU’s starter against Northern Iowa next week.
But what if he’s not quite there? What if he can’t practice until the end of the week?
Either way, ISU’s quarterback situation might remain mysterious for another week.
In terms of positives for Idaho State on the stat sheet, it’s hard to look past the penalty yardage column.
The Bengals had just one false start, while Utah committed 11 penalties for 105 yards.
It’s a small consolation in a largely uncompetitive game, but it does point toward a few usable takeaways for ISU.
First, the Bengals weren’t overwhelmed by the noise of 45,989 Utah fans. ISU has an experienced offensive line, which helps the Bengals avoid procedure penalties.
With games later this season against Northern Iowa at the UNI-Dome and against Montana in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, that’s important, and Saturday was a positive data point.
Second, ISU’s players didn’t lose their heads in a blowout loss and start committing unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
This speaks to a wider maturity on the sideline Saturday, which again can be traced back to the experience on ISU’s roster.
“The one thing this team didn’t do, there was never a sense of panic in the whole game on the sideline,” Phenicie said. “They were in it the whole time, they were tuned in.”
- Idaho State gave up just two sacks, both in the first half, to one of the best defensive lines in the FBS. “We protected a lot better than I thought (we might),” Phenicie said. “Frankly, (offensive coordinator) Mike Ferriter and I were concerned about that. Those guys (on the offensive line) manned up a little bit and did a good job.”
- With Aren Manu out with an injury suffered last week, and Kennon Smith leaving mid-game with another injury, there was some opportunity for reps among the depth at linebacker. Connor Wills stepped up, finishing tied for second on the team with eight tackles. “Connor came in pretty early because Kennon was out, and he was really excited,” Bengals linebacker Kody Graves said. “I kind of had to calm him down a little bit, but he was out there just running around making a bunch of plays. I was really impressed.”