Mistakes doom Montana State in 27-10 loss to Utah
SALT LAKE CITY (AP)
Rob Ash's worst fears were realized in the first 18 minutes against Utah on Thursday night.
''We made too many mistakes early. We gave them a short field with penalties, a blocked punt, interceptions. It was a nightmare,'' said Ash, Montana State's coach.
John White ran for 150 yards, and his second touchdown at the 11:53 mark of the second quarter gave Utah a 24-0 lead. The Bobcats held the Utes to just a field goal the rest of the way before falling 27-10.
''Utah had great athletes on defense. They moved around a lot and gave us trouble,'' said MSU sophomore quarterback Denarius McGhee, who threw for 183 yards but had two interceptions. ''Even with that, we should have played better and, honestly, we left a lot of plays on the field. We came here to win.''
McGhee tossed a touchdown to Tanner Bleskin just before halftime to boost the Bobcats, who were without their leading rusher from a year ago and three projected offensive line starters. But the hole was already too deep.
Linebacker Brian Blechen, a converted safety, intercepted two passes and set up Utah's first score with a 35-yard interception return, and Matt Martinez set up the second TD with his second career blocked punt.
The win was Utah's first as a member of the Pac-12 Conference and helped the Utes improve to 10-0 against the Bobcats and 32-0 against Big Sky teams.
''You have to hand it to Utah's front seven on defense,'' Ash said. ''They are very agile, strong, big guys and they are tough to block. Their team speed on defense was impressive. We had a little bit of a window sometimes but it closed quickly.''
But nothing was really smooth after taking the big lead.
''They didn't overwhelm us physically, but they made some plays early that put us in a hole,'' MSU linebacker Clay Bignell said. ''We're a confident team so we never quit. We had a good second half but we're not satisfied walking off the field with a loss.''
The road only gets tougher for the Utah, which opens Pac-12 play at USC next weekend before traveling to Provo for a game against a BYU team being recruited to join the Big 12.
Quarterback Jordan Wynn was making his first start since December shoulder surgery that kept him out of the Las Vegas Bowl. While hardly spectacular, he managed the new pro-style offense under Norm Chow, completing 15 of 23 passes for 101 yards and two TDs, with no interceptions.
There were plenty of questions going into Thursday's game.
How would Utah's offense come together with a new coordinator and new running back?
Would Wynn's surgically repaired shoulder hold up?
And, finally, how would the Utes' revamped secondary fare against a player who was touted as one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS?
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham will certainly take the victory, but knows there's plenty of room for improvement with a wicked road ahead.
''We were running the ball pretty effectively in the first half,'' Whittingham said. ''Our defense did a nice job of setting up the first score, and special teams set up the second. But we've got to play with more urgency on offense. The tempo is too slow.''
The Utes were without starting left tackle John Cullen, who did not play because of a concussion but is expected back against the Trojans. They also lost left guard Vyncent Jones for a while in the first half.
White, who won the starting running back job during fall camp, was a bright spot offensively for the Utes.
The 2010 Central West Conference offensive player of the year at L.A. Harbor College went over 100 yards on the night with a 24-yard fourth-quarter run. The 5-foot-8, 186-pound scatback added a 25-yard gain in the closing minutes.
Blechen, whose overtime interception helped Utah upset 15th-ranked Pitt in last year's season-opener, was the defensive standout.
He added about 10 pounds to make the transition from safety to linebacker. Though he still showed plenty of quickness, covering slot receivers at times, he came up short of the end zone on his first interception.
Utah built a 24-0 second quarter lead, primarily controlling the ball on the ground.
Wynn found wide receiver DeVonte Christopher open across the middle for a 7-0 Utah lead. He tossed his second TD of the quarter, a 5-yarder to
White, to cap a 9-play, 62-yard drive that put Utah ahead 14-0.
Coleman Petersen had battled Nick Marsh all camp for the right to be Utah's place-kicker. He won the battle and delivered, hitting a 37-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 44-yarder in the third.
Utah outgained Montana State 292-258 and held a 16-12 advantage in first downs.
Montana State, which won a share of the Big Sky title last season with a 9-3 record, still has never beaten a Pac-12 institution.
McGhee would finish with 183 yards passing, but was sacked twice, and didn't get much going until the second half. By then he was playing catch-up.
White started strong and never slowed.
''I'm so happy right now. I feel good,'' White said. ''I've been waiting a long time for this moment. We'll improve. That was just a taste of what's to come.''