SALT LAKE CITY — It turns out the Utah Utes are who Idaho State thought they were.
The Bengals went to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday and got a firsthand look at why Utah is hovering just outside the FBS top 10, as the Utes put up 543 yards, held ISU to 116, and walked away with a comfortable 31-0 win.
“So that’s what it’s like to play the 11-ranked team,” Idaho State head coach Rob Phenicie exclaimed upon entering his postgame press conference, and then later, after settling down, “They’re tough and physical. Your margin for error is minimal when you play one of these games, and you can’t give up big plays.”
Utah (3-0) scored on its first four possessions, taking a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter, and cantered over the finish line from there as Idaho State never threatened to score.
The Bengals (1-1), playing two quarterbacks, averaged 2.4 yards per play and didn’t advance farther than the Utes’ 42-yard line. Idaho State didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver until the third quarter, and Mitch Gueller was held without a reception. Michael Dean made four catches for 28 yards.
“They had a good defensive game plan against us,” said ISU tight end Austin Campbell, who had a career-high four catches for 33 yards. “It was kind of one of those days. Offensively, we need to get better.”
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley finished 15-of-19 passing for 282 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring throws of 82, 60 and 23 yards.
Zack Moss ripped off a 38-yard run on the first play of the game for the Utes and ended up with 106 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.
Middle linebacker Kody Graves was the standout for Idaho State with a game-high 13 tackles. Running back Ty Flanagan had 46 yards on 13 carries.
The Bengals’ defense stiffened after Moss’ big gainer to start the game, holding Utah to a 35-yard Jadon Redding field goal on its first drive.
On the second play of the ensuing ISU drive, Flanagan bounced a run outside to pick up 9 yards and a first down, and that was the high point for the Bengals as far as making it a competitive game.
The next three plays gained a total of minus-1 yard, Kevin Ryan punted the ball away, and Utah took eight plays to drive 71 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Moss took the ball down to the 1 with a 39-yard jaunt, then punched it over on the next play, running Graves over at the goal line.
“They are really physical and have three or four running backs they can put in and they’re all good,” Graves said. “We knew that coming in.”
The next two Utah touchdowns, coming on the next two possessions, were the backbreakers.
First, Bryan Thompson ran past the ISU secondary on a deep route and Huntley hit him for an 82-yard score.
On the next drive, tight end Brant Kuithe leaked out on a wheel route and no one picked him up for Idaho State. Christian McFarland had the angle for a last-ditch tackle, but Kuithe juked him at the 10-yard line and walked in untouched for a score.
“(We) just were not quite doing the assignment the exact way it should be,” Phenicie said. “When you’ve got cover 3 (on Thompson’s touchdown), you just can’t get beat deep when you’re in deep corner, and we just had a linebacker miss the wheel (on Kuithe’s touchdown).
“Like I said, it’s one thing if they drive 20 yards at a time. But handing them big plays is not what we wanted to do.”
Gunnar Amos replaced Matt Struck at quarterback for Idaho State’s fourth drive, but it got no better on offense for the Bengals.
Amos played most of the rest of the game for the Bengals, including the entire second half, after Struck took a big shot near the end of the first half.
He finished 7 for 17 through the air for 52 yards and an interception. Struck was 3 of 6 for 28 yards.
“It had nothing to do with Matt Struck,” Phenicie said about Amos coming in the first time. “We had just planned to give Gunnar some reps. That was built-in the whole time, that was by design. … Then we just decided to let Gunnar ride it out (after the big hit on Struck).”
Despite the final score, there were some positives for Idaho State.
According to ISU Sports Information, 31 points was the fewest the Bengals have ever given up against an FBS Power 5 team.
After Huntley stayed in to lead one more touchdown drive in the second half, hitting Thompson for a 23-yard score on a corner route, the Bengals didn’t surrender any points to Utah’s second- and third-string offense down the stretch.
They also forced the first turnover of the game midway through the fourth quarter. Luke Holloway punched the ball away from Britain Covey after a meandering, cross-field run on a screen pass, and Garrett Crane jumped on it for the Bengals.
They gave it back two plays later, when Amos’ pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell to JaTravis Broughton for the interception.
But of course, nobody ever said anything about playing Utah was going to be easy, and on Saturday, the Utes obliged.
“You could see that difference with these Power 5 teams compared to the Big Sky teams is that we’re a step slower,” Phenicie said. “We’re a step behind. They’re going to play Washington State and USC in the next two weeks, (but) we have to go look at what we did. … For us now, it’s all about playing Northern Iowa and getting to the playoffs.”