Brad Rock: It's clear Utes fans are psyched

Spring game featured fans, stars and the Pac-12 logo

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 7 2015 3:25 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Most people who attended to Saturday's Red-White football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium probably didn't learn much.

For instance, there were no fancy-schmancy plays. Likewise, there was no way of telling how well the Utes will do in the Pac-12, because they weren't playing all-out.

Key players? Almost none. Coach Kyle Whittingham said he withheld 60-70 percent of his starters for precautionary or injury reasons.

Thus, what fans got was a fair amount of sunshine but not a lot of nourishment. The real stuff was last week in the team's final major scrimmage. The spring game was mostly for show.

But honestly, did anyone care?

The occasion was merely an excuse for fans to psych themselves into a West Coast frame of mind.

If the Utes aren't ready for prime time next fall, it won't be for lack of enthusiasm. An estimated 15,000 supporters showed up at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the annual event, believed to be the most in school history. The Utes open conference play Sept. 10 at USC. That's like beginning a buffet with rare roast beef, without salad or bread sticks as a warmup.

As for solid indicators, there were few. The offenses scored just seven points between them, on a 15-yard pass from Tyler Shreve to Dexter Ransom. Otherwise, it could have been a soccer score.

Coach Kyle Whittingham did allow that he was impressed this spring with the running backs, receivers and a defensive line he expects to be among the best in the conference.

The lack of starters did little to dampen the mood of those in attendance. Though rain threatened early in the day, soon the sun was out. A tailgating contest in the west parking lot gave the proceedings an almost-authentic, game-day feel. Some fans seemed in a trance-like state, as though they couldn't believe their good fortune.

Asked if this year's game had a different feel than others, Whittingham said, "It did. It did. More like a game atmosphere."

Once in their seats, fans were treated to a sight they wouldn't have dared imagine several years ago: a pair of Pac-12 logos on the field. Both faced the west grandstand. That's not to insinuate the Utes were upside down with their plans. It was merely to highlight the logos for the TV cameras, which are always positioned in the press box.

But the game had something even more important than logos: star power. Among former or current NFL players watching were Eric Weddle (San Diego), Stevenson Sylvester (Pittsburgh), Paul Kruger (Baltimore), Sione Pouha (New York Jets) and Luther Elliss (Detroit). An alumni game preceded the actual scrimmage and included such off-the-wall participants as 6-foot-10 basketball player Britton Johnsen (for some reason a defensive back), and Reno Mahe, a former BYU running back.

"It felt good to have some traction," said Johnsen, comparing the turf to a basketball court.

Once the game began, there actually were a few things to note. For instance, freshman Harvey Langhi is a formidable running back, as promised. He rushed for 63 yards on 12 carries. Ransom had 57 total yards in receiving. Yet no one stood out in a major way. There was, however, one name to remember: Joseph Smith, a redshirt freshman from Corona, Calif., who picked off a Shreve pass in the first half.

You might say he was an inspiration.

Shreve had some good moments, as did Griff Robles, his competition, though each had his problems. Both had an interception. Shreve first underthrew, then overthrew receiver Luke Matthews on what could have been nice gains.

"Hot and cold," Whittingham said of Shreve's performance.

As the afternoon waned and the lines began to form for autographs, it still wasn't clear who will start at running back. Nor was it evident whether starting quarterback Jordan Wynn will be ready to go in September.

In fact, nobody could say for sure whether the Utes are even ready for the Pac-12.

However, this much was obvious: Their fans certainly are.

email: rock@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company