Utah football: Defense shines in Utes' most important spring session
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s second spring scrimmage carried some additional weight Saturday morning at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said it was the most important practice of spring camp.
“Absolutely. You’re 11 practices in,” he explained. “You’ve had a chance to rep your offense and your defensive schemes a bunch and so this should have been the best barometer of where we are both as individuals and as units today.”
Next week’s red-white game provides another opportunity to see who can make plays, Whittingham added, but schematically it will be nowhere close to what took place Saturday.
The Utes ran over 100 plays and the outcome was somewhat lopsided.
“The defense — hands down — won the scrimmage,” said Whittingham, who noted that they prevailed in the red zone, four-minute offense and two-minute situations. “ ... It was good to see the defense rise up, but we’ve got to get better offensively.”
Cornerback Reggie Porter and defensive end Pita Taumoepenu were among the statistical leaders for the defensive effort. Porter had four pass breakups and Taumoepenu registered two sacks.
Strong safety Hipolito Corporan put points on the board by recovering a fumble and returning it 29 yards for a touchdown.
Defensive backs Eric Rowe and Charles Henderson each had two pass breakups, while linebacker Uaea Masina, cornerback Mo Talley, defensive tackle Daniel Nielson, running back-turned-linebacker Marcus Sanders-Williams and nickel back Justin Thomas each had one.
Defensive back Evan Eggiman made a pair of tackles for loss. Linebacker Sharrieff Shah Jr., defensive tackle Seni Fauonuku and Sanders-Williams also made stops behind the line of scrimmage.
“I was pleased with a lot of guys,” said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who had a lot of projected contributors sitting out for precautionary reasons — giving several less-experienced players an opportunity to show what they can do. “(They) made a few mistakes, but they’re younger guys and they’ve got to get used to this pace and then tackling and all that stuff. So I thought we got better as a defense, specifically I saw a lot of individuals get better.”
All said, Sitake acknowledged it was good for the defense to mix things up a little bit.
Kicker Andy Phillips was also pleased with how things went in the scrimmage. The sophomore, who made a 41-yard kick early in the gathering, did a backflip after making a 59-yard field goal.
“He drilled it. That was a heck of a kick,” Whittingham said. “I’m not sure about the backflip after. Pretty impressive, but we don’t want much of that going on.”
As for the offense, the results were a bit of a mixed bag. There were good and bad things. That’s how offensive coordinator Dave Christensen saw it, acknowledging that he wasn’t real excited about the outcome.
“I thought there were a number of areas that we didn’t execute even close to what we’re going to need to execute in the fall. We struggled in the red zone, didn’t get enough first downs in the four-minute period,” Christensen said. “There were times we made some plays and did some things that were good, but our consistency of execution and our tempo is not even close to what we need it to be.”
Running back Troy McCormick was a bright spot. The speedy redshirt freshman ran for 134 yards on five carries, including a 60-yard sprint for a touchdown.
Senior Dres Anderson topped the receiving corps with eight catches for 111 yards and a score — teaming with quarterback Travis Wilson on a 44-yard touchdown pass. Wilson wound up completing 19 of 41 throws for 184 yards and a pair of TDs.
“It definitely went well, still some things to correct and we’ve got to do a little bit better in the situation stuff,” Wilson said. “But no turnovers and I thought the wide receivers caught the ball really well.”
Conner Manning quarterbacked the second unit and completed 9 of 12 passes for 116 yards and three scores.
“I was just trying to do my job — execute plays called,” said the redshirt freshman, who credited the receivers for making plays and the offensive line for doing a great job of blocking.
Besides McCormick and Anderson, touchdowns were scored by Delshawn McClellon, Westlee Tonga, Siale Fakailoatonga and Brian Allen.
“Overall for 100-plus plays, coming out healthy and getting the work done that we did in all the situational aspects, I thought it was a big positive,” Whittingham said.
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