This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
So maybe the Utah Utes were not playing the likes of Idaho State anymore, but you never would have known that by the Rice-Eccles Stadium scoreboard Saturday.
And even if the Utes were not actually facing USC, everyone's attempt to compare the Utes with Fresno State's season-opening opponent was inevitable.
Utah's 59-27 victory matches up well with everything the Trojans had done against Fresno State right from the start, and right up front. Any hope the Bulldogs held of competing in this game hinged on exploiting a Ute defense that was surprisingly vulnerable against the run in the season opener.
Not so Saturday.
Whether the key source was their own film evaluation, the coaching staff's instruction, the media, fans via social media or Idaho State coach Mike Kramer, who labeled the Utah defensive line "soft," the harsh reviews apparently had some positive effect on the defenders.
"Guys saw where they were making their mistakes," said Ute defensive end Nate Orchard, who also attributed the improvement to "coaches rippin' us."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, meanwhile, blamed a scheme that called for too much reading and reacting against Idaho State. "We went back to basic football … and the players responded," he said.
Conversely, Fresno State offensive coordinator Dave Schramm credited the Ute staff's creativity. "We were making a bunch of adjustments on the sidelines because they were giving us some fronts that we hadn't ever seen before," he said.
Utah looked like a Pac-12 football team in every phase of the game in building a 31-7 first-half lead, while raising a couple of questions about the visitors: These guys are the reigning Mountain West champions? And how could Ute athletic director Chris Hill have seen this coming? Booking the 2014 version of the Bulldogs was brilliant scheduling. "I can't expect us to play 11 really, really difficult games in a [regular] season," Hill once said.
It'll be 10, tops, in 2014 presumably, beginning at Michigan in two weeks.
Fresno State was overwhelmed by Utah's defensive line, among other position groups.
Amid everything the Ute offense has achieved through two games, the defense set its own tone by suffocating the Bulldogs in the first quarter.
The defensive line received considerable help in disrupting Fresno State's offense, but consecutive sacks by Clint Shepard and Hunter Dimick on the second series were huge contributions. Fresno opened the game with an 8-yard pass completion. And then the Bulldogs' next 14 plays netted minus-6 yards. The result was five straight three-and-out sequences, as nothing Schramm called came close to working.
"They knocked us around up front and made it rough for us to run the ball," said Schramm, a former Ute assistant. "They made us one-dimensional, and that's really what it came down to."
The Bulldogs finished with 55 rushing yards after posting 157 yards in a 52-13 loss at USC. The Utes recorded seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss led by Dimick's two sacks and Shepard's 2.5 tackles for loss. Utah's defensive statistics were aided by a 26-yard loss on a shotgun snap over the QB's head, with Orchard hustling to recover the ball at the 1-yard line to set up a third-quarter touchdown. Some issues surfaced about Utah's secondary, but not until long after the outcome was determined.
The Utes definitely have succeeded in creating hope for what's ahead of them Michigan, followed by nine conference games. The offense resembles a genuine Pac-12 production with the return of receiver Kenneth Scott and the addition of running back Devontae Booker, and the defense showed that it can correct its mistakes from one game to the next. Those are good signs, both ways.