Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah's annual Red & White Game lacked a little star power with many projected starters and contributors sidelined for precautionary reasons.
Even so, head coach Kyle Whittingham considered it a positive.
"We got a good look at a lot of the twos and threes," he said after Chad Manis quarterbacked the White squad to an 18-10 win over the Red team Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Manis had a hand in all three of his team's touchdowns running for two scores and passing for another as the Utes capped off spring ball.
Quarterback play led Whittingham's postgame evaluation. He was pleased with the performances of Manis and true freshman DeVonte Christopher, who led all rushers with 84 yards for the Red team.
Whitttingham said Manis did a nice job running the offense, while Christopher showed his big-play capabilities and promise as a quarterback of the future.
"To get those guys some experience was invaluable," Whittingham said.
Returning starter Brian Johnson played the first series for both teams before giving way to the reserves. Back-up Corbin Louks suffered a concussion in last week's scrimmage and did not participate.
Though the weather was warm, windy conditions adversely affected the passing game. Only the first score came via the air. It came with 5:19 remaining in the first quarter when Manis teamed with Freddie Brown on a 12-yard scoring strike. Brown, who led all receivers with three catches in the game, was singled out by Whittingham as the most improved player in camp earlier this week.
"It's a lot of fun, but I'm not concerned about individual accolades. It's all about the team and how we do," said Brown. "That's the most important thing."
As for the Red & White Game, Brown noted that the team capped a good spring by coming out and having fun.
No one, it seemed, had an more enjoyable outing than honorary coach and guest kicker Eric Weddle of the San Diego Chargers. The former Utah star not only picked up his first coaching victory, he also stole the show as a player NCAA rules allow such participation from alumni.
After Manis scored his second rushing touchdown following an 8- yard run in the second quarter with a 5-yarder midway through the third Weddle attempted to kick a PAT. It was blocked and scooped up by Justin Taplin-Ross, who ran 12 yards before pitching it to teammate Sean Smith. Donned only in a golf shirt and shorts, Weddle pursued the ball and chased Smith 50 yards into the end zone. He caught Smith on the sidelines and playfully fell on top of him.
"I hope the Chargers don't see the tape of him trying to defend that return. They'll kill me," said Whittingham. "He's so competitive he couldn't help himself."
The play was easily the highlight of the game.
"He did a great job coaching. Not so much kicking," Johnson said of Weddle. "I don't know if the Chargers would like him running down trying to make a tackle in the Utah spring game, so I don't know how wise that was on his part. But it was a fun time, and I'm sure he had a good time, too."
Johnson and R.J. Rice dumped Gatorade on Weddle to celebrate his first victory as a coach. Weddle acknowledged the surprise shower was freezing, but it failed to put a damper on his return to Utah.
"It was a lot of fun to come back here and be around the guys, be around the coaches and players. I ultimately want to end up coaching so it was good to get out here, call some plays and be around the team," said Weddle. "It was awesome. I love this place. I love the town. I love the people and I love this university. So any time I get to come back, I'll be here and supporting them."
Smith's return of the blocked PAT put the Red team on the board closing the gap to 18-2. They added a 10-yard touchdown run by Ray Stowers in the fourth quarter to cap all scoring in the game.
"I think the execution was fairly clean," said Whittingham, who said the play of Eddie Wide (65 yards rushing), Mo Neal (interception) and Chaz Walker (fumble recovery and 56-yard interception return) were among the positives. Too many turnovers, he added, were the negative.
Saturday's game was Utah's 15th and final practice of the spring. Whittingham graded the Utes as an A-minus.
"We had 14 good practices. We had one bad day (and) 14 positive days," he said. "I'm very pleased with the progression of a lot of the younger players. That was the biggest thing that was positive this spring."EXTRA POINTS: The Utes open the season Aug. 30 at Michigan. They report for fall camp on Aug. 3. ... Linebacker Jamel King, who was injured (torn ACL) earlier in camp, will redshirt next season. ... Sophomore linebacker Toby Titus led all tacklers with seven stops. ... Junior linebacker Lisiate Leota had a stellar outing with two tackles-for-loss and and interception. ... Freshman defensive end Thor Salanoa and sophomore linebacker Nai Fotu made sacks. ... Titus, Walker, R.J. Rice and Brandon Burton had pass breakups. ... Ben Hendy forced a fumble. ... Besides Leota, Fotu and Salanoa, Reggie Topps, Kepa Gaison and Hendy also made tackles behind the line of scrimmage. ... Attendance was estimated at 4,500.
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