Utah Utes football: Offense makes big strides in final scrimmage
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's final scrimmage proved to be quite offensive.
It began with the opening play when quarterback Jordan Wynn teamed with Reggie Dunn on a 49-yard pass. The first drive was eventually capped by a 7-yard scoring strike from Wynn to Kenneth Scott.
Things also started off well for the No. 2 offense. Their initial series ended with a 56-yard touchdown run by Thretton Palamo.
After being overshadowed by the defense throughout camp, the offense had its day in the end — scoring on nine drives with no fumbles or interceptions.
"It was great to see the offense take a step forward," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who was pleased with the efficiency and error reduction.
Wynn, who missed two days of practice earlier in the week while battling the flu, was productive in leading the first unit. He completed 8-of-12 passes for 128 yards.
"I thought it went well. We executed very well," Wynn said while noting that there were no exchange problems and things were real clean. "We scored some touchdowns and just went out and did what we needed to do."
After the opening touchdown drives, kickers Nick Marsh and Coleman Petersen put points on the board. Marsh connected from 50 and 39 yards out before Petersen added a 24-yard kick.
The last two came in red-zone situations, as did a 12-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Jon Hays to Griff McNabb that followed.
Hays completed his first 11 passes in the scrimmage, finishing with 133 yards in the air and two scores. His final touchdown toss was a 13-yard connection to wide receiver Nick Brown.
An 11-yard touchdown run by John White IV and a 45-yard field goal by Marsh rounded out the other point-producing drives.
"It was nice to see the offense happy at the end of practice," Wynn said. "We deserved it."
Offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom acknowledged it was nice to end camp on a positive note.
"We got better every day," Bergstrom said. "Every practice was a step forward for us."
Getting Wynn back, he added, was a big thing for the offense. Wynn has now thrown passes in three consecutive practices, something he didn't do earlier in camp for precautionary reasons after shoulder surgery in December.
Whittingham noted that the continuity is paying off. As such, he explained, the offense is on track as the Sept. 1 opener against Montana State approaches.
"That's a big deal to get your quarterback back," Whittingham said.
It proved to be especially beneficial during two-minute situations in the scrimmage. Wynn and the ones handled things well.
"Two-minute situations are often times to win ballgames and you've got to be efficient there," Whittingham said. "And this was the best two-minute, hands down, that we've had all fall camp and we need to continue on that plane."
The improved efficiency has Whittingham feeling better about the offense, and he noted it may have caught up to where it needs to be at this time. However, he said, it's still a work in progress.
The Utes had 14 receivers catch passes in the scrimmage. Tight end Jake Murphy led the way with four, while McNabb and Sean Fitzgerald each had three receptions.
Palamo topped the ground game with 67 yards on six carries. White IV finished with 17 yards on seven attempts and Harvey Langi just seven yards on five rushes.
The kicking competition between Marsh and Petersen intensified. During situational kicks, Marsh was 11-for-11 and Petersen made 11-of-13.
"The kicking game is still back and forth. We thought Coleman was in the lead, but now Nick Marsh shows up and had a better day today," Whittingham said while adding that there is still 12 days to settle the issue. "Right now, it's neck and neck. They keep jockeying for position."
Other spots still up for grabs when practice resumes Monday include corners spots in the nickel and dime packages.
Whittingham was a little bit disappointed with the secondary in the scrimmage, but is confident the defensive backs will bounce back and regain their camp form next week.
Defensive end Nate Fakahafua was the lone defender credited with a pass breakup.
"Overall it was a very good day for the offense," Whittingham said.
The defense, however, had a strong camp.
"We made great progress, took big steps forward," said senior linebacker Chaz Walker. "A lot of young guys learned the defense, stepped in and played great."
Freshman J.T. Strong has two sacks in the scrimmage, while Joe Kruger and Ron Tongaonevai each had one.
"I've got a feeling that we'll be very competitive on defense again," Whittingham said.
The biggest news coming out of camp and the scrimmage, however, may have been what didn't happen. Injuries didn't really take a toll and the offensive line, in fact, was boosted by the return of starting guard Sam Brenner (elbow) in the scrimmage.
"Things are looking up on the injury front. We got beat up just like everyone else in the country did during fall camp, Whittingham said. "The positive is we didn't lose anybody for extended periods of time."
Utes camp report
DAY 15: Camp concluded with a scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
STANDOUTS: Wide receiver Griff McNabb caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt for a score.
INJURIES: Nothing new in the scrimmage. Several players did not participate because of nagging injuries. Most, however, are expected to be back on the field next week.
NEXT UP: School starts Monday and so, too, does the in-season practice schedule.
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