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Fresno, Calif. • A quarter of the way through the season, the No. 21 Utes are 3-0.
Somehow, though, it feels like they're in a gray area.
They did enough that they never seemed at serious risk in a 45-24 victory Saturday night at Fresno State.
They did little enough that if they struggle next Saturday in Eugene, Ore., few will count themselves as greatly surprised.
Kendal Thompson started at quarterback as Travis Wilson traveled but remained sidelined with a sprained shoulder, Utah returned both a kick and a punt for touchdowns, and the Utes leaned heavily, again, on Devontae Booker.
The Sacramento native finished with 157 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries and caught four passes for 55 yards, upping the ante after totaling 62 touches in Utah's first two games.
His hurdling of a defender near the sideline, his 43-yard gain after a short screen and his 30-yard score late in the second spinning away from a tackler and skirting the left sideline to put the Utes ahead 17-3 constituted pretty much the entire offensive highlight reel.
An hour after kickoff, 320-pound Stevie Tu'ikolovatu had been about the fastest thing about the game. The junior defensive tackle scooped up the ball and waltzed 37 yards to the end zone (after some encouragement), the opportunity created by a strip sack of true freshman quarterback Chason Virgil that was credited to Utah junior end Kylie Fitts but involved simultaneous contact from senior defensive tackle Viliseni Fauonuku.
Utah possessed the ball for 21:05 of the first half, including 16:50 on two scoring drives that combined for 35 plays.
The Bulldogs, fresh off a 73-21 loss at No. 15 Ole Miss, warmed up to multiple playings of Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off," but shake it off they didn't, possessing the ball for just 8:55 and netting 103 total yards in the first half.
Booker, who once signed with Fresno State only to find out he didn't qualify one day before he was due to report, bashed the Bulldogs early and gashed them late, waltzing in from seven yards out midway through the third to cap a 93-yard drive and gave the Utes a three-score advantage.
Sophomore Zack Greenlee relieved an injured Virgil and found Josiah Blandin in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard score, but Utah junior Cory Butler-Byrd broke a tackle and took the ensuing kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown, channelling 2014's instant impact junior college revelation, Kaelin Clay.
After Fresno State's next possession, Utah freshman wideout Britain Covey did his best to one-up Butler-Byrd, catching Garrett Swanson's punt and zig-zagging 77 yards for his first career touchdown.
Greenlee continued to have success, but the margin was too much.
The Utes, who have now won nine consecutive nonconference games, will be judged by their improvement in key areas that appeared weak as the Pac-12 slate looms:
The passing game • Thompson completed a majority of his passes, but Utah's biggest gains were two passing interference penalties drawn by senior Kenneth Scott his second consecutive game drawing two PIs. Deep in Bulldog territory, on first down, Thompson freelanced and was burned by cornerback Tyquwan Glass, who picked him off at the goal line. Multiple times, Thompson missed open receivers, and redshirt freshman Chase Hansen badly overshot a lonely Scott on a flea flicker. Besides the 43-yard screen, Utah's longest reception this year is 31 yards. Expect to see Wilson under center again in Eugene.
Offensive push • Utah tried to establish a physical advantage early, rushing 28 times in the first half. Many of its yards came after contact, however, and seemed due as much as anything to the effort of Booker, who leaped over one defender and bulldozed others.
Pressure on the passer • After leading the nation last year, Utah players and coaches acknowledged it galled them slightly to have just two in the first two games. Utah fell far short of the seven it totaled against Fresno State last season, but Fitts' strip sack was among a handful of times they harried Virgil in limited opportunities.
Special teams • Butler-Byrd's return was a thing of beauty, as was Covey's. Senior punter Tom Hackett with two punts inside the 10 and junior kicker Andy Phillips - good from 33 yards were back to their 2014 selves.
Sophomore cornerback Boobie Hobbs started off the game on a frightening note for the Utes, the ball jarred loose from him at the Utah 15 by a crushing blow from Fresno State wideout Da'Mari Scott, but Utah forced two Fresno State kickoff fumbles, too.
Back on track, in that regard.
But lots of room to improve.