Utah Utes football: Sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson stands tall, solidifies status as Utah's starter
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Travis Wilson stood tall in Utah’s scrimmage Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The 6-foot-6 sophomore strengthened his status as the Utes’ starting quarterback by completing 12 of 18 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns.
Although Wilson was intercepted once — by linebacker Brian Blechen — he drew rave reviews for his performance in what will likely be the team’s last extensive live work before the Aug. 29 season opener against Utah State.
“He’s distanced himself from the rest of the field throughout this fall camp. In spring it was very tight. It was a tight race all the way through spring,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “But in fall camp, Travis has solidified himself as the starter and put some distance between himself and the next guy.”
Wilson’s statistical line in the scrimmage overshadowed those of challengers Adam Schulz, Brandon Cox and Conner Manning. Schulz was 5 of 8 for 58 yards and a touchdown, while Cox completed 1 of 3 for 13 yards and Manning connected on 8 of 12 throws for 70 yards an a score.
The highlight of Wilson’s day was an 82-yard completion to tight end Jake Murphy. The offense was backed up on the 1-yard line at the time. Murphy noted it was a good call by the coaches and credits Wilson for reading the situation and executing the play.
“It was a little pop pass and it went well for us,” said Murphy, who led 12 pass catchers with 125 yards receiving.
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson acknowledged that Wilson is playing good ball right now.
“He’s playing confident and I think he’s just maturing physically and mentally,” Johnson said. “He’s making good decisions.”
Wilson noted that the offense did real well in the scrimmage and that the passing game really opened up and the running game was effective.
“I was really happy with how I played,” he said, while expressing confidence and trust in the playmakers around him.
The aim now, Wilson continued, is developing consistency.
“We’re on schedule. We’ve still got to keep sharpening ourselves and putting everything together,” Johnson said. “I think (Travis has) had a nice fall camp and we’re starting to see his development and maturity as a quarterback — all the hard work that he has put in throughout the offseason is starting to pay off.”
Co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson added that Wilson is “getting better all the time.”
Even Blechen has taken notice.
“This year he looks a lot more comfortable,” he said. “The guys believe in him a lot and as you know he’s commanding a fast offense out there.”
And as evidenced by the scrimmage, progress is being made. Contributions were widespread.
On the ground, Kelvin York ran for two touchdowns. Karl Williams and Bubba Poole rushed for single scores.
Westlee Tonga, Dres Anderson, Andre Lewis and Siale Fakailoatonga had TD receptions.
“It feels good that things are finally coming together and we’re being more consistent,” Murphy said.
According to Johnson, the offense as a whole is a good group that is improving and learning.
In his initial evaluation of the scrimmage, Whittingham said things looked “very good.” The coaches wanted to see clear execution and consistency from the offense. Although Whittingham noted that they’re still not there yet, there was big improvement.
Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said the guys on the other side of the ball are also going to keep working hard to get better. It’s a day-by-day deal.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been satisfied at this moment no matter what the year has been and that’s part of being a coach,” he explained.
Defensive stars Eric Rowe, Trevor Reilly and Tenny Palepoi were held out of the scrimmage for precautionary reasons and there are still some position battles to be decided.
The coaches planned to dissect the scrimmage tape in search of some solutions.
“There’s still a few things to sort out,” Whittingham said. “But I think we’ve got about 90 percent of it sorted out.”
As for the backup quarterback pecking order behind Wilson, Whittingham noted that Schulz may have the upper hand on the No. 2 spot.
EXTRA POINTS: Defensive ends Hunter Dimick and Sam Tevi recorded sacks in the scrimmage. Defensive end Nate Orchard and linebacker Jared Norris also had tackles for loss. ... Cornerback Keith McGill and linebacker V.J. Fehoko were credited with pass breakups. ... Whittingham’s son, Alex, a freshman linebacker, returned an interception 47 yards for a touchdown during the third-string segment of the scrimmage. ... Andy Phillips made two field goals (48, 36) and two extra points, while Jon Halliday connected on a 41-yard kicker and made five PATs.
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