Travis Wilson looked improved over last season, making quick decisions and generally placing the ball where it needed to be. He wasn't facing much tight coverage against a porous ISU secondary and had a few balls that he threw behind guys (and one miss on a deep ball that would have been a touchdown), but he played exactly how the coaches wanted him to play. The deep ball to Dres late in the first half wasn't perfectly placed, but the drop-back, the motion, and the spin on the ball were perfect and it turned into a big gain that set up a touchdown. The biggest play of the day from Travis was his diving touchdown. He's not afraid to lay his body on the line, and that's huge considering where he was just a few short months ago.
Thompson showed flashes with his legs but also took too many sacks. A lot of that was on the line as they pretty much just stopped blocking when he came into the game - almost like they just expected him to be able to run around and do what he wanted or they wanted to stop and see what he was going to do. He can make the shorter throws and has plenty of arm strength, but that might be the last time this year you see him throw it over 20 yards. The accuracy just isn't there. 6 of 10 passing for 67 yards gets it done in mop-up duty, but I still want to see more.
Brandon Cox may be the future. It was a small sample size but he looks poised and comfortable running that offense. The guy never looked afraid or uncomfortable. He showed off the arm and the wheels which was very encouraging.
Running Backs: B
Ooooohhhhh that Booker kid is going to be good. Breaking tackles, running away from defenders, and looking like that SEC-type back Doug Kimmel has been touting he would be. Poole had a solid day but didn't do anything spectacular. I watched and waited for him to turn the edge and take off but he kept getting pushed out of bounds. The McCormick fumble may hurt his confidence, but he'll bounce back. On the whole 28 carries for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns isn't bad. Throw in 3 more grabs for 78 yards and it's a pretty good day for the backs.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B
Who is this Tonga guy? I don't remember seeing him in fall camp. The Utes rarely went to the tight end in the fall, but Tonga caught six balls on Thursday night and showed that he'll be a great weapon. Dres made the ISU DBs look silly with his speed and the grab over the middle between two defenders was impressive. It was good to see Kenneth Scott get back out there and make an impact including a very nice touchdown grab. There's lot of depth and options, and it was definitely on display Thursday. The one thing I wanted to see that I didn't was a receiver take a ball over the middle, turn it up the field, and out-run everyone similar to what Booker did on his long touchdown.
Offensive Line: C-
Well, the left side looks fine. Poutasi looked like the guy we saw at the end of the 2012 season. He was quick, he was mobile, and he was pushing dudes around with ease. Welcome back big guy, we missed you. Junior Salt was strong in both pass protection and run blocking. He had one missed assignment early but got better as the game went on. I didn't even notice that Lutui was at center until someone told me, and that was after watching the game twice. Looks like minimal or no drop-off from Aiono. The right side was ok. Asiata had a nice block to spring Booker on his long catch and run and Dielman absolutely crushed his blocker which took out the entire ISU defensive line as they all fell into each other. Other than that, it was a mixed bag. Too much pressure from that side in the passing game. Not good enough considering the opponent.
Defensive Line: D+
Nate Orchard is good at the football. 8 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and was in the backfield all day. He would have had bigger numbers had he played the whole game. Dimick didn't have the same numbers, but he was very effective playing opposite Nate. Utah has some good ends. I was a little disappointed in Fanaika. He hasn't built on his big spring and disappeared at times in the fall. He didn't do much besides one tackle and one QB pressure. He'll be someone to watch going forward.
Now to the tackles. Clint Shepard made some plays early and had an impact, and he did so with speed. When he had to take on the blocker and hold his ground, however, he lost. That speed edge disappears against Pac-12 teams. Filipo Mokofisi looked lost and took himself out of the play often. Fauonuku didn't have an impact. Ianu lost about 90% of his snaps. The one guy that really impressed was Lowell Lotulelei. He should be starting by next week. He was quick, explosive, and strong. He did it all. More reps for Lowell will only help this very average defensive line, and the interior has to get better. Getting pushed off the line in the run game against Idaho State is unacceptable.
Jared Norris started out slowly with some missed assignments but got better as the game went on. Jason Whittingham was nowhere to be found - a far cry from the player he was a season ago. He struggled with shedding blockers and holding his lanes. Both guys were slow to react to what was happening. The problem is compounded when your guys up front don't hold the line. 179 yards rushing for Idaho State is about double what they should have put up. Marcus Sanders-Williams and Masina look small out there. I'd be very concerned if anyone gets hurt.
C'mon guys. These are FCS players. This isn't USC. Davion Orphey and Wykie Freeman looked like true freshmen out there - out of position, getting beat time and time again, and lacking physicality. Freeman looks like he's afraid of contact. At his size he should have been manhandling those receivers. Eric Rowe was up and down. He had some nice plays in run support and they didn't throw at him much. The personal fouls, however, are unacceptable. When he came over to defense, Hatfield was the best corner on the team. He was locking dudes down and had only one mistake that I noticed. The full-time switch needs to happen NOW. There are plenty of receivers. You have to be VERY disappointed in how these guys played considering the competition and the pass rush that Nate and Dimick provided.
Blechen and Carter didn't have to do much. Carter with a personal foul hurt a bit, but neither was called on much in the passing game or in run support. Still TBD as to how they'll do.
Special Teams: A+
Phillips kicked the ball into or out of the end zone repeatedly. Hacket makes the ball kick back like no punter I've ever seen and even pulled off a nice fake punt. The Utes coverage on punts and kicks was great. Oh, and Kaelin Clay returned two kicks for touchdowns. It's ISU, but still. Kyle Whittingham leading the special teams looks like the perfect move so far.
Position Grades: Utah vs Idaho State
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