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Utah Utes’ nonconference slate mercifully comes to an end and now it’s on to USC Trojans

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham watchs action during NCAA football against the Idaho State Bengals in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham watchs action during NCAA football against the Idaho State Bengals in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It was almost comical late in the second quarter of Saturday’s Utah-Idaho State game when, on three consecutive plays, the officials stopped the game for a booth review and on top of that took an extra five minutes trying to decide whether to place the ball on the 3- or the 4-yard line in between a couple of reviews.

No wonder fans were streaming out of Rice-Eccles Stadium at halftime. They couldn’t stand to hear one more announcement of “the previous play is under further review.” Well, that and the fact that the Utes held a 24-0 lead against a team that showed little possibility of giving the Utes a challenge in the second half.

It was a game that probably should have never been played, except that practically every major team in America feels it has to play a game against a lower-division school and those schools are more than happy to earn their half-million-dollar paychecks to get beat up.

The Utes took a 31-0 victory, which was not as dominant as the previous seven wins over the Bengals since 1944, which were decided by an average margin of 47-8. But still plenty dominant for the 11th-ranked team in the country.

In the end, the Utes got their passing game untracked, piling up 543 yards of total offense. And that was without playing their star running back for the final 40 minutes of the 60-minute game and their senior quarterback for the final 25 minutes of the game, as two backups QBs split time for nearly a half.

On defense, the Utes allowed just 116 yards in producing their first shutout since the opening game of the 2016 season and the fourth shutout in the eight-game Utah-ISU series.

“That puts an end to the nonconference games,” said Whittingham at his postgame press conference.

Perhaps he should have inserted the word “merciful” in there somewhere.

The Utes had little trouble winning their first three games, although the first half of the BYU win was a little nerve-wracking. The Utes beat both the Cougars and Northern Illinois by 18 points and in both games pulled their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter.

Against Idaho State, the Utes could probably have put 50 on the board, but a fumbled snap at the 1-yard line prevented a touchdown and throughout the second half Utes were more worried about clearing their bench and giving some players their only chance to play all season.

The Utes also kept shooting themselves in the foot with silly penalties. After getting eight penalties in their first two games combined, the Utes had 11 penalties for 105 yards, compared to one penalty for Idaho State for five yards. Although it might have seemed at times as if the Pac-12 crew was feeling sorry for the Bengals with the penalty disparity, Whittingham wouldn’t go there afterward, saying, “I never say one thing about the officiating with the conference — we just go about our business,”

He did comment on what happened with approximately five minutes left in the second quarter when the game skidded to a complete halt with back-to-back-to-back booth reviews.

First the officials stopped the game to review a play to see if a Utah player had been targeted. After the next play, the officials overturned a targeting call that had been whistled on a hit to Utah QB Tyler Huntley. That’s when the officials got mixed up on where to place the ball, because a play had been run before the review and didn’t count.

Next, it was a review of a run by Devin Brumfield that was ruled just short of the goal line and upheld. Then three plays after that, another targeting review came after a hit by Ute backup defensive tackle Semisi Lauaki and, like the others, this one went against the Utes.

“That was odd, having all those stoppages and reviews,” acknowledged Whittingham later.

In the end, all Whittingham cared about was that his team had survived its nonconference schedule and “came out just what we’d hoped and just what we should have.”

Now it’s on to the start of Pac-12 play at the Coliseum in Los Angeles Friday, when things will really start to count for the Utes.