Game Matchups: Utah vs Idaho State

Utah opens the season against FCS opponent Idaho State

Idaho State Quarterback and Receivers vs Utah Secondary

Idaho State
Quarterback Justin Arias is going to sling the rock around against Utah as that's what the Bengals do best. A pass-happy team, they lost a huge chunk of their receiving corps and will go with three sophomore starters against the Utes out wide. Broc Malcom and Josh Cook caught a combined 83 balls in 2013 so there is experience at the position despite the young age. The senior Arias can be very dangerous coming off of a season in which he threw for over 3,500 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Utah
Utah's DBs may be tested a bit on Thursday. With some recent shuffling in the starting lineup due to Reggie Porter's injury there may be cause for concern. Eric Rowe will get his first start at the cornerback position after moving over from safety. This is a perfect opponent for him to get his feet wet as the Bengals are going to throw it a lot, but he should be able to lock down most of their receivers with his talent advantage. Davion Orphey will start opposite Rowe and has proven to be a serviceable player. Justin Thomas at the nickle spot should be able to build his confidence as well against the Bengals and out-muscle a lot of their receivers with his physicality. Brian Blechen and Tevin Carter should be salivating going against a team that will throw it this much, especially if the Utes are able to jump out to a big lead. That means big hits and plenty of opportunities for interceptions.

Advantage: Utah

Idaho State Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah Linebackers

Idaho State
ISU brings tight ends Josh Cook (6'3", 221) and Tyler Wright (6'5", 243) to Rice-Eccles, both of which had respectable seasons last year with Cook grabbing 32 receptions for 317 yards and Wright pulling down 18 receptions for 201 yards. To put that in perspective, Utah only completed 29 passes to the tight ends all of last season (25 to Jake Murphy) so look for the tight ends to be a big part of ISU's attack. Because of depth issues, I'd expect to see Whitthingham and Norris, both of whom have had injuries issues in the past, to have limited playing time against ISU. This game will serve as a great opportunity for Uaea Masina to get valuable snaps as along with newly switched Pita Taumoepenu and former running back Marcus Sanders-Williams. These three need plenty of playing time to grow into their new positions. With all of that being said, ISU's running backs and tight ends will be overshadowed by a faster, stronger, more talented, and in some cases inexperienced Utah linebacking corps. The real test for this group will come against Fresno State and Michigan.

Utah
Depth at the linebacking corps is a major concern for the Utes as they enter the 2014 season. With key injuries to experienced and talented backers like Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale, the pressure is ramped up on new starters as well as newcomers to the position. The starters are solid with Uaea Masina getting the nod at stud and veterans Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris at the mac and rover positions. Whittingham and Norris are proven commodities and will likely handle everything Idaho State tosses their way including returning starters like running back Xavier Finney. Finney had a solid first year with the Bengals with 915 rushing yards last season, but only had a long of 22 yards. He's a ground-and-pound back who should be controlled easily by run-stoppers like Whittingham and Norris.
Advantage: Utah

Idaho State Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line

Idaho State
Every once in a while lightning can get caught in a bottle, or so says ISU head coach Mike Kramer. Protecting the QB will be the number one focus for ISU and the up-tempo offense that they like to run. The line is anchored by four-year starter Jim Bagley. Bagley is the lone senior on the line, but Kramer is optimistic that this will be the best line he has had at ISU. “Finally we enter this game with an offensive front that is competitive at our level, let alone the next level,” Kramer told Monty in the Morning on 1320 KFAN. ISU may be able to move the football if they are able to get ample protection up front.

Utah
The Utes return one starter on the defensive line, and oh what a player he is. Nate Orchard, an all-conference candidate, had 17.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons and has forced five career fumbles. Expect him to be a nightmare for the Bengals all game long (or for the quarter or two that he actually gets to play). Opposite Orchard look for a rotation between Jason Fanaika and Hunter Dimick who both had really solid fall camps. The question on Utah’s defensive line is the interior - Viliseni Fauonuku so far is the only one that has locked up a starting spot. Can Utah’s two defensive tackles create enough of a push to force plays to the edge? This shouldn’t be a problem against Idaho State, but keep an eye on this for future matchups.
Advantage: Utah

Utah Quarterback and Receivers vs Idaho State Secondary

Utah
Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson? Kendal Thompson or Travis Wilson? What about Brandon Cox (did you see his Spring Game?!)? Conner Manning had a chance to be your starter earlier this year, too, and let's not forget about Adam Schulz. My gut from the beginning, and my opinion now, is that Travis Wilson is the guy. Throughout fall camp he fought hard to earn the job and looked more and more like the QB we all thought he could be by the time camp concluded. Having said that, Kendal Thompson will play in this game and will be given every opportunity to take that starting job away from Travis. This is what Utah fans want and it's why bringing in a guy like Thompson is so valuable. You raise the water-level and the 'QB competition' becomes what it's called, a true competition. As a Utah fan you want all four of these guys getting reps on Thursday night. The competition they get in practice and scrimmages is far superior to what they will see on Thursday night so execution should be precise and first downs should come in abundance. I love Tom Hackett, but the QBs should do this guy a solid and keep him on the bench for the entire game.

During the 2013 season the Ute receivers (and backs) caught 208 passes, but the team only return guys that contributed 103 of those receptions. In most scenarios you would be pretty nervous about the WR group and have a lot of question marks, but that's not the case with this year's Utah team. The stable of Utah QBs mentioned above have the luxury of throwing to the most talented, deepest WR group Utah has had since 2008-09. Utah brings back their big-play threat and one of the best receivers in the conference in Dres Anderson, and finally gets Kenneth Scott back (arguably the most impressive receiver from the 2012-13 season) who missed all of 2013 due to an injury he sustained in the season opener against Utah State. Add to that duo the luxury of a 6'5" receiver in Tim Patrick and you're sending out quite a starting three. Utah would be in great shape if they had one of these guys, let alone all three, and it gets even better. The Utes are bringing in speedster Kaelin Clay, proven weapons Geoff Norwood and Delshawn McClellon, and also have Dominic Hatfield they can go to if needed (moved to DB role after Reggie Porter injury). Utah will have a choice of who to throw to and when. The matchup on paper against the secondary of Idaho State isn't fair, and it will be even more unfair on the turf come Thursday night.

Idaho State
Idaho State brings in two second-year coaches in the secondary. Their DB coach Stanley Franks lead the country in interceptions as a junior while playing at Idaho tallying 9 in 12 games. He is joined by second-year co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach (and former Utah great) Spencer Toone. You'll remember Spencer as one of the top LBs to ever wear Crimson. He helped lead Utah to the 2004 Fiesta Bowl, was drafted by the Tennessee Titans in 2005, and played alongside current Utah safeties coach Morgan Scalley. They both bring a toughness and winning attitude that Idaho State hasn't previously had.

The Bengals return two starters at cornerback: a Washing State transfer, Brandon Golden, and a senior transfer from Cerritos College, Vai Peko. The most notable thing that jumps out when looking at Utah's WRs vs ISU's DBs is the difference in size and speed. Idaho State has one guy in their secondary over 6'2", a freshman that may not even see the field. Their starting DB unit won't have a guy over 6'0" tall while and Utah is going to start receivers who stand 6'2", 6'3", and 6'5".

Utah is better, top-to-bottom, starters and reserves, at every position in this matchup. Utah can impose their will by throwing the ball, but what will be interesting to see is how much they choose to do that. This season Utah wants to establish a running game to increase time of possession and decrease turnovers, which they should easily be able to do against Idaho State. They also want to get Travis Wilson live game reps throwing the ball, even if it's just short and intermediate routs, but if Utah jumps out to a quick early lead the matchup between Utah's wide receiver corps and the Bengals defensive backs may be limited.
Advantage: Utah

Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Idaho State Linebackers

Utah
One of the most upgraded positions for Utah was the RB spot as JUCO transfer Devontae Booker and redshirt freshman Troy McCormick have provided a big boost to what was an underwhelming position group in 2013. Bubba Poole returns as the team’s leading rusher and is thicker and more experienced than he was a year ago. Expect a three running back rotation between Poole, Booker, and McCormick, but if one of them gets hot the others may see their touches diminish during the game. As for the tight ends, redshirt senior Westlee Tonga returns after receiving a medical redshirt for the 2013 season. Tonga is an extremely athletic tight end and is more of a big play threat than Jake Murphy was last year. He only had one catch for the 2013 season, but expect to see him targeted early and often. After Tonga, expect the battle for the #2 spot between Siale Fakailoatonga and Evan Moeai to continue throughout the season. Both are good receiving threats, while Fakailoatonga is a better blocker.

Idaho State
Mitch Beckstead is the best returning player on the Bengal defense. The redshirt senior was named honorable mention Big Sky and totaled 111 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, and 3 INT’s in 2013. At 6’0" 235lbs Beckstead is a strong presence in the middle of the Idaho State defense. Playing alongside Beckstead is senior P.J. Germaud and redshirt junior Hayden Stout. Stout was a big play-maker for the Bengals in 2013 as he totaled 8.5 TFL’s, 40 total tackles, and 1 INT. He’s also the quickest linebacker for the Bengals at 6’2" 220lbs. Pele is the biggest LB for the Bengals at 6’1" 252lbs and totaled 56 tackles with 3.5 TFL’s. Look for the Bengal LB’s to try and make a lot of plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Advantage: Utah

Utah Offensive Line vs Idaho State Defensive Line

Utah
Utah's girth up front is going to have a nice advantage over Idaho State who only uses a three-man front. Jeremiah Poutasi and Junior Salt have the ability to be one of the top left sides in the Pac-12, and Siaosi Aiono has developed much quicker at the center position than many expected. They're three big, bad dudes that are going to push Idaho State around like kindergartners. Isaac Asiata held off Leka Uhatafe in the fall and grabbed the starting right guard spot. He fits the mold of a classic nasty Utah offensive lineman who loves to run block. Right tackle JJ Dielman rounds out the group. He's the least experienced but proved to be the best option for the Utes at right tackle. The size of this group is massive at an average of over 311 pounds per player. Idaho State shouldn't be able to handle that and the Utah running backs should flourish.

Idaho State
With the Bengals running a three man front, their job is going to be to hold that line so the linebackers can make plays. Two seniors are on the ends in Sage Warner and David Foster with sophomore Tyler Kruder anchoring the middle. The wildcard in all of this is senior Austin Graves, who will play both the rush end spot as well as some linebacker. Coming off a season in which he had 14.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, Graves will be the most dangerous defender on the field for Idaho State. If the offensive line can keep him in check they should be able to dominate thoroughly.

Advantage: Utah

Utah Special Teams vs Idaho State Special Teams

Utah
Utah’s special teams are headlined by a couple of all-Pac-12 and All-American candidates in kicker Andy Phillips and punter Tom Hackett. Phillips, just a redshirt sophomore, hit 85% of his FG’s last year with a long of 51, and was perfect on PAT’s in his first year ever playing organized football. Hackett, a redshirt junior, average 43.4 yard per punt with a long of 70, had nineteen 50+ yard kicks, and nailed 27 punts inside the 20. Snapping the ball to both kickers is true sophomore Chase Dominguez who was perfect on all attempts last season. There will be a mix of players looking to return punts and kicks for Utah. On punts, look for RB Bubba Poole to be the first guy out there, but WR Kaelin Clay will also handle punt return duties and is without a doubt Utah’s biggest threat to take a kick back for a score. Look for Clay, Poole, Devontae Booker, and Troy McCormick to split reps returning kicks as well.

Idaho State
Idaho State will be breaking in a new kicker, as redshirt sophomore Zak Johnson takes over kicking duties for the graduated Brendan Garcia. Redshirt senior C.J. Reyes returns as the Bengals punter, and averaged 38.5 yards per punt in 2013 with a long of 65 and 20 punts downed inside the 20. The Bengals had their two leading returners graduate at the end of the 2013 season so look for redshirt senior WR Luke Austin to handle most of the return duties along with RB Daniel McSurdy.
Advantage: Utah

James Cella, Andrew Gorringe, Robert Jackson, Jayson Jones, and Brian Swinney contributed to this article.

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