For a few fleeting moments Saturday night, Utah fans might have wondered about their heralded football team - for instance when the Utes couldn't even make a first down on two of their first three possessions and had a pass intercepted on the other.
Not to worry.Like a car engine trying to get going up on a cold winter's morning, the sluggish Utes got warmed up in the first half and by the end of the game were running full throttle with a 66-0 shellacking of outmanned Idaho State.
The Utes picked up their second victory of the year as they exploded for 45 points in the second half to send 30,064 Rice Stadium fans home happy.
The only real drama in the final quarter was whether Utah could keep the Bengals from scoring. By doing so the Utes recorded their first shutout since a 19-0 win over Utah State in 1990 and scored their biggest shutout victory since a 56-0 win over - guess who - Idaho State in 1978. The 66-point margin was the Utes' biggest since an 82-6 win over UTEP in 1973.
"We're a better football team than Idaho State. If we play good football we should beat them by this score," said Ute coach Ron McBride. "Our offense kind of milled around in the first half, but once they picked up the pace we were a much better football team."
The Ute defense was solid all game, giving up just 10 rushing yards and 113 total yards. Idaho State didn't even cross midfield until the final minute of the third quarter and then it took a roughing-the-passer penalty on Utah to help the Bengals cross the 50.
The Utes definitely wanted a shutout. While McBride took out quarterback Mike McCoy midway through the third quarter, he left some of his top defenders in until midway through the fourth quarter.
"Our defense pitched a shutout and any time you can shut out anybody in college football, you're doing a great job," said McBride.
The Utes came up with several sacks and tackles for losses. Linebacker Marcus Woods had four jarring tackles for losses all by himself.
Offensively, freshman Juan Johnson was the hero, rushing for 95 yards and three touchdowns. Robert Hamilton ran for 86 yards and a pair of scores, while McCoy, on an off-night, completed 14 of 18 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, both to Curtis Marsh.
The Bengals showed off their no-huddle offense, which is just like it says - they never huddle, they just step up to the line. The only problem was, they usually took at least 10 seconds to get a play off, which negated any surprise element to the hurry-up offense.
It didn't work for most of the game. Freshman quarterback Robb Wetta completed just 11 of 35 passes for 93 yards and two interceptions, while backup Gary Anderson had a pass intercepted for a touchdown.
Utah almost seemed to be going through the motions in the first half when they took a 21-0 lead.
The Bengals held the Utes on their first possession without a first down, but promptly fumbled away the Utes' punt at the ISU 38. However, Utah gave it right back when McCoy was intercepted at the 5-yard line by Chris Toles.
Midway through the first quarter, Utah capitalized on a Bengal fumble as Johnson rambled 10 yards for a touchdown. Early in the second quarter, Hamilton capped an 89-yard drive with a 2-yard run.
The Bengals held the Utes on their next two possessions before the Utes broke through for another score when McCoy hit Marsh with an 11-yard scoring pass with 3:00 left in the half.
In the third quarter, the Utes finally got cranking and woke up the slumbering fans who were getting tired of the exchange of punts in the first half.
On Utah's first possession of the second half, Johnson scored his touchdown from 4 yards out. Then Marsh, who was known for his dropped passes last year, made a spectacular catch, one that that should make most highlight films this week.
McCoy's pass was underthrown, but Marsh reached back and made a one-handed grab with his left hand. Then he darted between two defenders and outran one man before making a swan dive into the end zone for a 40-yard scoring play.
After Ernest Boyd's second interception of the game, Hamilton scored his second touchdown with a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter.
McBride replaced McCoy with Brandon Jones on the next possession with 5:29 still left in the quarter, but that couldn't stop the Utes' momentum. Dan Pulsipher added a 48-yard field goal to make it 45-0.
In the fourth quarter Johnson got loose for a 29-yard touchdown run, freshman Cal Beck returned an intercepted pass 45 yards for a score and then Charlie Brown completed the scoring with a 23-yard TD run.
"They simply outmatched us with their offensive line," said ISU coach Brian McNeely. "I expected them to try and wear us down and run the ball."
Next week the Utes travel to Oregon to face the Ducks in a 2 p.m. game. Oregon was 1-0 before going into its game at Hawaii late Saturday night.
UTE NOTES: Ute running back Sylvester Cooperwood left the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle as did offensive guard Roy Ma'afala . . . Pulsipher replaced Brain Alba as the Utes placekicker because Alba was ill this week. Alba might remain ill for awhile. Pulsipher was perfect on all eight PAT tries and made his only field goal from 48 yards . . . The Utes were much more disciplined Saturday than a week ago when they piled up 133 yards in penalties. They only had four for 35 yards Saturday night.