The Cougars won their opener for the first time under Bronco Mendenhall, and in the process answered some questions, while raising others.
The biggest question was answered positively, if not resoundingly so. Max Hall, in his first game time since high school, turned in a performance his coach termed solid, completing 26 of 39 for 288 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. If there's a cloud to go with this silver lining, it's that one throw should have been intercepted and returned for a big play, possibly even a touchdown, and Hall consistently overthrew receivers on the long routes. For a first-ever college start, however, Hall looked good, and can only improve.
The game ball can only go to redshirt freshman Harvey Unga, who carried 15 times for 68 yards and one score, while catching nine balls for 128 yards and another score. With the return of Manase Tonga next week, the running game will be a major contribution and help take the heat off a young quarterback. Fui Vakapuna showed he still has a bit of speed to recover after off-season surgery, and the depth at running back is very welcome. Just ask Utah.
The defense, despite the loss of several starters to pre-season injuries, was very good, holding the Wildcats to 30 net rushing yards and 224 passing yards, and narrowly missed a shutout, holding the visitors scoreless through 59 minutes. The linebacking corps led the way, with the five who played racking up 18 unassisted tackles and 17 assisted tackles.
The rough spots? Special teams across the board. Kick coverage ranged from inadequate to awful, the punting game was poor, and a missed field goal and mishandled PAT rounded out the problems. The offense lacked the continuity it will need to beat the good teams. The secondary played well, but is thin after injuries.
The win was nice, certainly better than last year's first outing, but a performance like this won't carry the day next week. It was an acceptable first game, but don't make it out to be more than it is.
Utah 7, Oregon State 24
Despite the post-game spin, Utah did not go toe-to-toe with the Beavers through three quarters. Both teams struggled early and were scoreless after the first quarter and tied 7-7 at the half. The loss of quarterback Brian Johnson late in the second quarter doomed Utah's hopes, which had already taken a blow when running back Matt Asiata suffered a broken leg at the end of the first quarter. By halftime the outcome was certain, even though the scoreboard didn't show it. Johnson is likely out for the next three games, while Asiata is lost for the year. The Utes will now have to play well to finish above .500.
Next up: versus Air Force.
It wasn't as dominating as the score would indicate, as the Frogs gave up 15 first downs and 281 yards to a weak Baylor team while picking up 17 and 385 of their own. TCU was also helped by four Bear turnovers.
Next up: at #4 Texas.
Air Force 34, South Carolina State 3
The Falcons had no troubling churning out 455 yards against a I-AA opponent, but it will be different next week in Salt Lake City. The Utes, who would have been solid favorites with Johnson and Asiata, will be slight favorites without them. Air Force would do well to remember that it was the Utah offense, not defense, that suffered debilitating injuries.
Next up: at Utah.
Maybe Syracuse knew more than we thought. The Orange bailed on their commitment to come to Laramie after the Cowboys traveled to New York last season, and will be glad they did. Virginia was likely to struggle on offense this year, but head coach Al Groh is a defensive specialist. Somebody forgot to notify Wyoming, as the ‘Pokes rolled up 28 first downs and 474 yards of offense. Quarterback Karsten Sween gave notice that he'll be a force to be reckoned with.
Next up: at Utah State.
The Rams outplayed the Buffaloes 25 first downs to 19 and 385 yards to 332, but gave up an 86-yard touchdown drive as the third quarter closed, followed by a two-point PAT, then gave up a tying field goal as time expired in regulation. The Rams won the coin toss but elected to go on offense first in OT. Quarterback Caleb Hanie's pass was picked off in the end zone, allowing Colorado to play conservatively for an easy field goal for the win.
Next up: versus #10 Cal.
How on earth do you pick up 22 first downs to your opponent's 9, 190 passing yards to only 80, 193 rushing yards to 129, commit no turnovers while intercepting one pass of your opponent's, and still lose? Easy - you give up more points, however few, than does your foe.
New Mexico moved the ball well but never found the end zone, and in the process missed two field goals, one after penetrating to the Miner 15-yard line and another moving to the UTEP 20. The game ended when Lobo quarterback Donovan Porterie was sacked at the Miner 34.
Next up: in-state rival New Mexico State comes to Albuquerque.
UNLV 23, Utah State 16
Two of last year's worst teams teed it up in Logan. UNLV prevailed after a punt pinned the Aggies at their own 2-yard line. With the score tied at 16 apiece, Utah State responded with a 5-yard run, a sack, and an incomplete pass. A 41-yard punt was returned to the Aggie 36 and five plays later the Rebels had the winning score.
Next up: versus #5 Wisconsin.