Idaho State returns eight starters on offense, including senior starting quarterback Justin Arias. Expect to see a bevy of passes as ISU runs an air raid offense, averaging 297 passing yards per game last year (11th in FCS). Yards through the air are racked up on shorter completions, as ISU only averaged 10.93 yards per completion (99th). This is often the case with air raid offenses, where short passes act as a pseudo running game. Points were at a premium last season, with ISU managing to score only 22.6 points per game (82nd).
The offensive headliner is Arias, who attempted the most passes in school history last season (574), throwing for 3,547 yards with 24 touchdown passes (plus two rushing touchdowns) and 14 interceptions. Arias only completed 56.1% of his passes last season. The senior quarterback struggled against FBS foes Washington and BYU, where he only averaged 126.5 yards passing with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Other positions of strength are running back and offensive line. The offensive line has at least seven players who have started at least one game. As is often the case with FCS teams, the offensive line is undersized, so they will have to utilize splits and quickness to block bigger front sevens. The Bengals will also attempt to help the offensive line handle Utah's larger front seven by throwing quick screens and slants and running draw plays. Minimizing pressure will be key for Idaho State since they allowed 31 sacks last season (tied for 88th), against a Utah team that was near the top in the nation in sacks last season. Opposing teams consistently made plays in the Bengal backfield, averaging 6.5 tackles for loss against them (80th in the nation).
Do not expect to see the Bengals offensive line blocking much for rushing plays. With only 94.2 rushing yards per game (112th) last season, the Bengals were one of the worst rushing teams in the nation. This is largely due to the scheme, since other air raid teams, like Washington State, also do not put up many rushing yards. The team instead uses quick passes to the outside to compensate for the lack of yards on the ground. ISU may run more this year since they do have solid depth at the running back position.
Since Idaho State frequently runs four wide receivers in their air raid offense, it is concerning for Bengals fans that the area with the least returning experience is wide receiver, where the Bengals lost their three top players from last season. There is some talent at the tight end position with Josh Cook returning, so expect to see him more involved in the passing game this season (though he has been battling injuries during fall camp).
Idaho State struggled on third downs last season, only converting 35.6% for first downs (89th in FCS). The Bengals also struggled to hang onto the football, losing 13 fumbles on the year (tied for 100th), leading to 27 turnovers on the season (102nd). Maybe the most important statistic is pass efficiency, since Idaho State's sole offensive philosophy is to throw the football. It is then concerning that the Bengals ranked 84th in FCS with a rating of 116.65.
Utah has more talent across the board than ISU, so this match up should provide little challenge for the Utes. The only slightly intriguing match up is the Utah secondary (especially now that cornerback Reggie Porter is out for the season) versus the ISU air raid offense, led by a senior quarterback. I fully expect that just based on talent alone, Utah should shutdown the Bengal passing attack (which struggled mightily against FBS teams last season), but it could be a little concerning if Utah were to give up, say, over 300 yards passing. I expect Utah's starters will only play in the first half of the game, and I would like to see them force several turnovers, record multiple sacks, limit the ISU passing attack to under 100 yards, and not allow ISU to score any points. If the Bengals score a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the third string defense, I can accept that, but I want to see Utah's defense crush Idaho State's offense.