Saturday's scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium put Utah over the hump. The Utes are now on the backside of their 15 spring practices.
"I'd say at the halfway point we're about where we need to be," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We've got a lot of work to do. But if we can make as much progress in the second half of spring as we have in the first half, then that's a positive."
The Utes' first scrimmage featured several solid performances on offense, defense and special teams.
Sophomore quarterback Corbin Louks completed 11-of-16 passes for 66 yards (and rushed for a scrimmage-high 39 yards) as the offense made its strongest showing of the spring.
"We really clicked today. I thought we improved in all aspects running, passing, blocking," said Louks, who noted that the team did a good job bouncing back from a shaky practice on Thursday. "I thought we came back and really showed some life."
Brian Johnson and Chad Manis threw touchdown passes in red-zone situations, with Jereme Brooks and Bradon Godfrey hauling in the scores. Sophomore Eddie Wide III topped the running backs with 34 yards on 12 carries, and redshirt freshman Collin Robinson made a game-high five catches to lead the receiving corps. Senior Freddie Brown was second with four receptions. Both players netted 34 yards.
On defense, the Utes racked up nine quarterback sacks, six tackles-for-loss, three fumble recoveries, three pass breakups, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
The special teams units delivered 10 made field goals, two extra points and a blocked punt by junior Bo Hikila.
Whittingham called it "a good work day" and "a lot cleaner practice than it was on Thursday." He considered the latter his team's worst showing of the spring.
"We had some guys step up," said Whittingham. "The defensive secondary made some plays; Corbin Louks continues to get better, and the running backs have proven to be a very solid group."
Though they weren't involved in full contact situations, Brent Casteel and Matt Asiata had successful carries in the scrimmage.
"It was competitive. Guys battled and made some plays. There's still a lot of work to be done on both sides of the ball, but that's why we have spring ball," said Johnson, who is also being eased back into things after offseason surgery.
"We're at the halfway point right now, so we'll have to use the second half of spring ball to come in and get everything situated to where we need to be for fall."
The offense, he added, is making strides.
"We still haven't played up to our potential yet," said Johnson. "We have another seven practices to do so. As long as we're getting ready for the fall, we'll be fine."
With several promising recruits joining the mix when camp opens in August, Whittingham acknowledged it's a chance for others to shine and make the most of it.
Robinson responded to the challenge as did several others, including Lei Talamaivao and Chaz Walker, who each made two sacks. Defensive lineman Blake Pacheco, a redshirt freshman, also made an impact with two tackles behind the line of scrimmage, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup. Defensive back Brandon Burton, another redshirt freshman, intercepted two passes.
Whittingham was pleased with the performance of Utah's defense. He noted, however, that the offense is coming around as well.
"They're closing the gap a little bit. But we've still got a pretty good defense. They played some good football last year for us and we've got a lot of them back," said Whittingham, who pointed out the complexities of Utah's scheme.
The defense, he has repeatedly said, is usually way ahead of the defense at this time of year. The difference is lessened when the offense completes its installation.
"I think the gap is narrowing," said Whittingham. "Hopefully by the end of spring things will be fairly even."In the meantime, the Utes are still quite capable of putting points on the board. Kicker Louie Sakoda was 6-for-6 on Saturday. He connected on a pair of 47-yard attempts, as well as distances of 46, 41, 34 and 27 yards. Junior Ben Vroman made four kicks, including a 47-yarder.