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Offense gets off to a quick start as the Utes overpower Idaho State

Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss set the tone early as 11th-ranked Utah improves to 3-0 with a 31-0 win.

Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) breaks a tackle by Idaho State Bengals linebacker Kennon Smith (31) and goes in for a touchdown against the Idaho State Bengals during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) breaks a tackle by Idaho State Bengals linebacker Kennon Smith (31) and goes in for a touchdown against the Idaho State Bengals during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s 31-0 win over Idaho State didn’t come without a price. The Utes, after all, paid the Bengals a cool $550,000 for Saturday’s game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

On the field, though, the exchange went Utah’s direction. The 11th-ranked Utes finished nonconference play with a 3-0 record by racking up 543 yards and 22 first downs. They held Idaho State to 116 yards and just nine first downs.

The offense got off to its best start of the season — scoring on its first four possessions — to seize control of the game quickly. The Utes opened with a 35-yard field goal by Jadon Redding before adding a 1-yard touchdown by Zack Moss and an 82-yard scoring strike from Tyler Huntley to Bryan Thompson late in the first quarter.

“The game went the right way we wanted it to,” said Moss, who ran for 106 yards on 10 carries and moved up to No. 2 on Utah’s career rushing list. His first run from scrimmage went for 38 yards. “We got off to a pretty good, fast start today.”

Moss noted the importance of doing so as the Utes prepare for Friday’s Pac-12 opener at USC.

“Finally, man. Coach Whittingham and all of our offensive coaches preached it all week, just pretty much dying and begging for us to go ahead and get that started. It felt good. So hopefully we can carry it into next week and every other week going forward. So it’ll be a nice little building stone for us.”

In Utah’s previous two games, the offense didn’t put a lot of points on the board early. The Utes managed just a field goal in the first half of the season opener at BYU (the defense contributed a pick-six by Francis Bernard). They were held scoreless in the first quarter before getting 21 in the second against Northern Illinois.

Despite finishing with some impressive numbers — 15-of-19 passing for 282 yards and three touchdowns — Huntley wasn’t completely satisfied overall.

“We still didn’t get a touchdown as we wanted to (on the first drive),” Huntley said as he left the field. “We’ll just continue to get better.”

Huntley noted that the Utes “left a lot of points on the field and we can improve in that area.”

Early in the second quarter, Huntley teamed with Brant Kuithe on a 60-yard TD throw. By game’s end, Utah added a 23-yard score from Huntley to Thompson.

The Utes have turned the ball over just once and not allowed a sack over the first three games of the season.

“I think (offensive coordinator) Andy Ludwig has done wonders with Tyler and they really seem to be in the same wavelength and the same page,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “They are very in-sync and Tyler is like a sponge. When you say something he pays attention. He’s playing his best football. I don’t think there’s any question about that. He’s playing his best football as a Ute. He’s a team leader, he’s a captain, and so it’s good to see happen.”

The senior, Whittingham continued, has worked hard for this.

“This is his chance to really shine this year,” he said.

Huntley, thus far, has completed 42-of-54 passes (77.7%) on the season for the 602 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 99 yards and a score.

Britain Covey led the Utes with four receptions against Idaho State. Thompson netted 105 yards on his two touchdown catches.

“He is doing a great job getting open down field. He brings another element to the game,” Huntley said. “All the receivers do. It feels good to have all those weapons out there.”

Utah averaged 8.8 yards per play in the victory. The Utes wound up with 320 yards passing and 223 rushing. Scoring drives consisted of 46, 71, 87, 82 and 80 yards, respectively.

“They are really physical and have three or four running backs they can put in and they are all good. We knew that coming in,” said Idaho State linebacker Kody Graves. “We see a couple of teams like that in our conference like that, like North Dakota and Montana State, where they have really big backs who are really talented. We gave up a couple of big plays in the first half and then we tightened up in the second half.”

However, it failed to change the outcome. Utah’s final four drives resulted in two punts, a fumble and the end of the game. The turnover was the team’s first of the season. Penalties proved to be troublesome as the Utes were flagged 11 times for 105 yards.

Whittingham acknowledged there were too many and said things got sloppy at the end. He also lamented the turnover and just one takeaway (an interception by JaTravis Broughton) by the defense, which was credited for holding the Bengals to just 36 yards on the ground.

“The offense was very productive and we had a chance to play a lot of offensive line guys,” Whittingham said. “That will be valuable as the season goes on. It is a short turnaround for Friday night at the L.A. Coliseum.”