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An FBS team handing an FCS team its 45th consecutive loss may not rank among college football's storied triumphs, but the biggest winners Thursday night were the Utes who returned to the field after an extended absence and played a key role in the 56-14 blowout.
Junior quarterback Travis Wilson, after an intracranial artery condition made him off-limits for contact since November, passed for 265 yards and one touchdown and showed characteristic fearlessness in catapulting an Idaho State defender for a rushing score.
Junior wideout Kenneth Scott, whose season ended as soon as it began last year against Utah State, snagged his first touchdown since October 2012.
And junior transfer Devontae Booker caught a 61-yard screen pass and rushed 10 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns after failing to qualify and sitting out last season.
The opener had an unexpected dash of tension when Idaho State drove deep into Ute territory down just 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham said afterward that Utah's offensive and defensive lines did not win the battles in the trenches by the margin that he had anticipated.
"We weren't physical enough at the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball," he said.
Co-starting nickel back Justin Thomas did not dress for undisclosed reasons, and Utah also had difficulty stopping Idaho State's passing attack, especial early.
Bengals quarterback Justin Arias showed some senior savvy against the bigger and faster opponent, finishing with 158 yards and two touchdowns, and Idaho State also rushed for 179 yards on 44 carries.
Afterward, Nate Orchard said that despite his 2.5 first-half sacks, the defensive effort was "very average."
On the bright side, special teams were dominant in their first game under the direction of Whittingham, and Kaelin Clay electrified the crowd by becoming the first Pac-12 player since Cal's Deltha O'Neal in 1999 to return both a punt and a kick for touchdowns in a game.
Clay, who began his career at Cal and then went the junior college route before arriving in Salt Lake City, said he told coaches he was going to score when he first touched the ball. He was a man of his word.
He swiveled left and then right and then left again on a 46-yard punt return, and he replicated that magic on his first kickoff return, sprinting 100 yards down the left sideline.
"I've got to thank the punt return and the kick return team, and our coaches for putting us in great positions," Clay said. "They tell us everything, and sometimes we don't want to listen to them, but it worked today."
And it was soon after senior Eric Rowe blocked a Bengals' 30-yard field goal attempt that the demolition began.
Dave Christensen's high-paced offense was as fast as advertised. Utah scored on drives of 16, 32 and 42 seconds.
Of the tempo, Whittingham said, "I don't think it was great, but it was good."
Junior running back Bubba Poole got the start and led Utah's first scoring drive with a 17-yard punt return, a 16-yard rush and a 6-yard touchdown rush.
The Bengals hung tough, however, with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Arias rolling back to his left and finding Broc Malcolm in the back of the end zone for a 3-yard, third-down strike.
Following Wilson's Superman impression, the Bengals drove again. This time, however, Utah's defense bore down and Orchard sacked Arias on third down at the 20.
After Rowe blocked Zak Johnson's kick attempt (noticing previously that Idaho State's wing didn't do a good job of "walling out"), Wilson threw into double coverage to senior Dres Anderson who finished with four catches for 111 yards and came down with the ball as his helmet was knocked off. Two plays later, Booker waltzed in from 38 yards for a 21-7 lead.
Backup quarterback Kendal Thompson started the second half, getting sacked twice on his first drive but nonetheless earning time against in Utah's next game, against Fresno State, Whittingham said. Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Cox added a garbage time 16-yard rushing score.
The Utes get a nine-day break before returning to action against Fresno State next Saturday. Idaho State will play the second of four games against Utah-based teams, traveling to Logan to face the Aggies.
O Fast and furious • Utah's offense scores on drives of 32 seconds, 42 seconds and 16 seconds in Dave Christensen's first game as offensive coordinator, piling up 589 total yards on the overmatched Bengals.
Very special teams • Eric Rowe blocked a kick, Tom Hackett was precise with two punts inside the 5, and Kaelin Clay stole the show, returning a punt 46 yards and a kickoff 100 yards for touchdowns. ISU 0 7 7 0 14
Utah 14 21 14 7 56
Utah • Poole 6 run (Phillips kick), 9:40.
IdSt • Malcom 3 pass from Arias (Johnson kick), 5:15.
Utah • Wilson 2 run (Phillips kick), 2:59.
Utah • Booker 38 run (Phillips kick), 12:09.
Utah • Clay 46 punt return (Phillips kick), 5:00.
Utah • Scott 26 pass from Wilson (Phillips kick), :19.
Utah • Booker 4 run (Phillips kick), 10:40.
IdSt • Williams 6 pass from Arias (Johnson kick), 7:46.
Utah • Clay 100 kickoff return (Phillips kick), 7:30.
Utah • Cox 16 run (Phillips kick), 1:57.
First downs 21 27
Rushes-yards 44-179 46-238
Passing 158 351
Comp-Att-Int 21-40-0 22-32-0
Return Yards 1 82
Punts-Avg. 11-43.8 5-46.8
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 7-42 7-54
Time of Possession 34:41 25:19
Rushing • Idaho St., Finney 23-133, McSurdy 11-60, Ford 3-6, Team 1-(minus 2), Arias 6-(minus 18). Utah, Booker 10-78, Poole 6-42, T.McCormick 12-36, Hackett 1-28, Cox 2-22, D.Young 4-14, Wilson 4-12,
K.Thompson 6-7, Team 1-(minus 1).
Passing • Idaho St., Arias 21-40-0-158. Utah, Wilson 13-18-0-265, K.Thompson 6-10-0-69, Cox 3-3-0-17, Team 0-1-0-0.
Receiving • Idaho St., Williams 4-43, Malcom 4-25, Mangum 4-25, Cook 3-17, Finney 3-11, Prier 2-35, McSurdy 1-2. Utah, Tonga 5-61, Anderson 4-111, Scott 4-57, Poole 2-18, Clay 2-13, McClellon 2-12, Booker 1-61, Hatfield 1-9, Patrick 1-9.