AMES, Iowa – Under the radar, against nondescript opponents, Utah has quietly been as impressive as anyone.
The 11th-ranked Utes (5-0) put forth their most explosive performance of the season in Saturday night's 68-27 blowout of host Iowa State. The Utes racked up 593 yards of offense, scored their most points in 27 seasons and converted on all nine trips to Iowa State's red zone.
Utah has scored 180 points in its last three games — and Iowa State's 41-point loss was actually the closest anyone's gotten to the surging Utes in the past month.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads compared Utah to the only other ranked team the Cyclones have faced this season, Iowa — which won 35-7.
"They are solid in every direction that you look. Good kicking game, good return game, excellent speed in their coverage units," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "They have the ability to score points and put pressure on your quarterbacks and stop you from making plays."
Believe it or not, there was still some uncertainty about the Utes entering Saturday night's game. The only BCS-conference school Utah had played, Pittsburgh, pushed the Utes to overtime before losing 27-24. They were only a slight road favorite against an Iowa State team that's been a perennial Big 12 also-ran.
It was obvious from the second quarter on that Utah was stronger, faster and more efficient than the Cyclones in every phase of the game.
Nowhere was that more evident than on special teams.
Wide receiver Shaky Smithson showed why he's one of the nation's best kick returners with a spectacular 78-yard punt return that covered well over 100 yards. He added a touchdown pass and a 61-yard TD reception, all in the first half.
Reggie Dunn took back a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter — just moments after the Utes had blocked an extra-point try — and Joe Phillips drilled four short field goals.
Utah averaged 42 yards on kickoff returns, 26 yards on punt returns and racked up 109 yards on a pair of interception returns, as the Utes simply overwhelmed the Cyclones with their staggering speed time and time again.
"Special teams gave us a big lift. Shaky Smithson was tremendous in the return game. Reggie Dunn is electrifying when he has the ball in his hands," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Utah also showed the shell-shocked Cyclones (3-3) just far they have to go before they can start consistently hanging with elite programs.
Iowa State's 52-point outburst in a win over Texas Tech on Oct. 2 is now a distant memory. The Cyclones even scored a pair of touchdowns after forcing Utah turnovers, often a key for an underdog hoping to pull off the upset, but it wasn't even close to being enough.
Next up for the Cyclones? Road games at Oklahoma and Texas — and the danger that the season could get away from them.
"We can't panic," Rhoads said. "We need to get answers as a staff why that happened. We have to find answers as players as well as to why that's happened."
Utah won't get much of a chance to impress anyone over the next two weeks, with struggling Wyoming and Colorado State on the schedule. The real test for the Utes likely won't begin until Halloween weekend, when they kick off a three game stretch that includes road trips to Air Force and Notre Dame sandwiched around a huge Mountain West tilt with TCU.
If the Utes offense can play like it has over the last three weeks, they'll have a chance to beat everyone left on their schedule.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn looked like a senior in picking up his first road win, throwing for 325 yards and two touchdowns on 23 of 31 passing. Utah also rushed for 239 yards and were 8 of 13 on third down.
"I got in sort of a two-minute mode. I just got in a groove," Wynn said. "I just started seeing things and I just rolled with it."