The Utes went through their annual Red-White spring football game Saturday afternoon at Rice Stadium, showing very little in the way of "name" talent. It had the feel of a night at the opera - with Pavorotti out nursing a sore throat. Scott Mitchell, the all-America quarterback candidate, appeared for all of two series. Clifton Smith, the team's swift, powerful running back, got just four carries.
As promised, Coach Jim Fassel delivered only glimpses of what the Utes will show next season. The stars stayed well away from the heat of battle. Most of the afternoon was a montage of newcomers and backups. Spring football at Utah is neither a showcase nor a trip down memory lane with the alumni. It is, according to Fassel, a test tube for unproven talent.Mitchell did have his moments, despite a short stay on the field. He directed the first touchdown of the game, completing his first seven passes. He also directed defensive strategy from the sidelines, which helped the White team prevail, 16-10. In winning, the White team was treated to steak dinner afterward; the Red team had to settle for hot dogs.
Following the game, there were the usual vague references that accompany such an event: the Utes played well; there were some good things and some bad; the "young kids" are coming along; Mitchell is, well, Mitchell. Fassel declared the month-long spring drills a success.
"And the best thing about today's game," the coach continued, "is nobody got hurt."
There was one minor injury when linebacker Darren Patterson dislocated a finger.
Nobody seemed to take the game more seriously than they should have. After Mitchell directed the first touchdown of the day - on a 15-yard scoring pass to Scott Wheelwright - he settled in to watch from the sidelines. The Whites moved ahead 13-0 when defensive back Derrick Odum came in at quarterback. Odum raised a few eyebrows by running several wishbone plays.
Odum moved the Whites to the 24-yard line, then delivered a scoring pass to tight end Dean Witkin. Wayne Lammle's PAT gave the Whites a 13-0 lead with 3:40 to go in the first period.
Lammle nailed a 49-yard field goal early in the second period for the Red team and added a 35-yard field goal at the end of the half for a 16-3 White lead. Mitchell played his second series before the half ended, then retired to sidelines again. His figures, appropriately, were 7-of-9 for 100 yards and one touchdown.
Mitchell's backup, Mike Richmond, turned in a fairly impressive afternoon - thanks in part to his being the only quarterback the Red team used. He threw for 251 yards and one touchdown. His scorng pass was a dizzying 60-yarder to Cedric Riles with 5:22 remaining in the third period. The PAT cut the White lead to 16-10 and ended the scoring.
Mitchell, trying to stay interested on the sidelines, reverted to subterfuge to help out his team. Midway through the fourth period the Reds - led by Richmond - challenged again, advancing as far as the White 3-yard line, but were stopped cold. As Fassel watched from the pressbox he suddenly declared, "I know what they're doing. Mitchell is stealing the signals."
Sure enough, Mitchell, who was standing along the White sidelines, was intercepting the Red team coaching signals being sent to Richmond, then shouting them out to the White defense.
"I'm above that," protested Mitchell with mock indignation. "I would not cheat for a steak."
Richmond rallied the Reds one final time, bringing them to the 12-yard line with six seconds to go. But his fourth-down pass to Cedric Riles was long.
While there were other things that pleased Fassel, the most pleasing of all was the sight of Mitchell on the sidelines, untouched. Entertaining spring football is one thing; keeping the star player healthy is another.