It was business as usual as Utah football capped off the spring period with the annual red-and-white game at Rice-Eccles on Saturday – and for fans who braved the multiple weather stages that only the spring of the Utah can supply in a day, it was clear that business is good.
Here are some takeaways from Saturday’s action:
Utah’s offense buzzed – even without Cam Rising
Starting quarterback Cam Rising left the scrimmage after just one streak, but oh what a streak it was. Rising was 4 of 6 for 60 yards and a touchdown in his only series. He distributed the ball to multiple receivers, including a long sideline pass to Devaughn Vele for 21 yards on the very first play, and a reel-worthy one-handed catch for the emerging Makai Cope two plays later. late.
“He was very fluid there,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said of his starting QB. “He was lively. You saw Devaughn Vele catch a few balls from him, and they started to develop good chemistry together. We had a few receivers who didn’t play today, and we have a few this summer that we’ll be adding to the receiver pool.
“What Cam did was what we had hoped and expected. He came in and designed a touchdown practice and made it easy, and that was his day job.
But as Rising gave way to backups Bryson Barnes and Ja’Quinden Jackson, the offensive sparks continued with both quarterbacks throwing for two touchdowns and Barnes having a 55-yard rushing TD erased from the board due to a penalty. bizarrely called provocation.
It was hard to deny that Utah looked explosive offensively for both teams.
Freshman running back Jaylon Glover continued his impressive spring with five carries for 36 total yards (a catching average of 7.2 yards per carry), and Money Parks led the way for receivers with four catches for 43 yards. , finding the end zone twice.
Between the two teams, 19 players caught passes on offense and Team White averaged 6.4 yards per play and 9.0 per pass attempt, which if sustained throughout the a season, would likely give Utah a top-20 offense nationally.
While it may be difficult to draw any real conclusions from a split-team scrimmage, the eyesight test was more than enough to confirm that Utah enters the drop with real depth on offense beyond the listing.
Kyle Whittingham is still living the dream
The longer wisps of hair are sticking out from under his cap again and it was clear from his demeanor as he spoke to the media after the game that Whittingham was pleased with more than the sandwich he had just eaten as he sat down. sat on the podium.
For a man who is so notoriously calculated, Whittingham was positive and honest with his comments.
“We had a great spring and we were able to stay healthy. A lot of guys made plays today which was great to see,” he said.
It doesn’t sound overwhelming when read aloud in print, but it was the smile on his face and the tone of his voice that made it clear that after such a roller coaster ride in 2021, the head ball coach at the University of Utah is still living the dream he started 18 years ago.
At times, you could see the new attitude reflected in the team on the pitch as the defensive line spontaneously created new celebrations on the pitch and along the touchline, and some of the players’ loudest moments happened. at the end of the game to encourage those who rarely see the field at the bottom of the depth chart.
It’s been a constant aspect throughout the spring, something that statistics and general football acumen can’t really quantify. But as safety Cole Bishop, Glover, Rising and first-year linebacker Lander Barton joked among themselves behind the podium after the game, it was hard to deny the camaraderie shines through with such a diverse group of players and positions.
The fact that they have opened up the practice and themselves to the prying eyes of the media seems to indicate this team’s confidence in their upcoming mission.
But there is a lot of hard work ahead.
Whittingham mentioned the upcoming season opener against Florida twice on Saturday, using the trip to the swamp as an example that there are “no easy games.”
Refresh the playbook
For a team that won the Pac-12 mostly with runs and passing play action at tight ends, Utah seemed to open the playbook on Saturday. A variety of quarterback runs for Barnes and Jackson were on display, and Barnes led all rushers with 47 yards for the game.
It’s hard to see Utah running the ball with Rising 10 times a game like they did with Barnes, but where the running QB threat in the game seemed to be more present than the action of years past , Utah showed a few plays using Barnes and Jackson in the ever-popular run-pass option, or RPO, something that hasn’t been a staple traditionally under offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.
But if we can take anything from this spring session, it’s that Utah is entering the season with a new offensive perspective in how they use roster talent. Will this lead to faster and more varied play in the racing game in the fall? Hard to say, but if Ludwig was ready to show it off in the spring, there’s probably a reason.
A youth movement in defense
Between all the offensive talk this spring and linebacker Devin Lloyd leaving the program as one of the all-time greats, there are plenty of questions about defense.
Barton continued to play well, showing off his athleticism as he locked in a wide receiver for minimal gain, then deflected a pass the next play while covering a running back, which can be tough for a four-year-old starter at the linebacker not to mention a freshman.
In the backfield, Kenzel Lawler stood out with a few breakups and the only interception of the day and Caine Savage also had some nice passing breakups, indications that both young defensive backs have made progress since last season when Micah Bernard had to intervene. at the post due to injuries.
Whittingham noted that everyone should be available once the team begins summer conditioning, including Fabian Marks who has seen no action this spring, as well as coveted Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate.
While this bodes well for the defense in terms of uptime, the question of how the group will fare with so little experience still remains.
First-liner Carson Tabaracci led the Red team in tackles on Saturday, which is notable as he could still be gearing up for his prom after the game. Meanwhile, Bishop led the White team with seven tackles on the day. Bishop is still just a sophomore, the one who didn’t really arrive until the end of the season (although it was hard to argue with his impact when he burst onto the scene) and he pointed out in his comments afterwards that while his side was “playing well, tackling; we just have to make sure that we reduce errors.
Utah has the luxury of getting up to give the defense some breathing room, but as we saw near the end of the season last year, Utah is at its best when the defense can sway. stop and the attack can control the ball at the end.
Whittingham is underrated when it comes to running games with a lead, and a young defense’s room for error will only shrink if they don’t come out of Florida with a win, but it’s tough to imagine that a defense that ended the year as the best in the Pac-12 with so many injuries and young players will no longer understand anything.