SALT LAKE CITY — It's never a good thing when your starting quarterback goes down on the second play of the game with an injury and your second-team QB throws a pick-six on his first pass of the game.
Thankfully for the University of Utah football team, it was just the annual Red-White game Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium and not the opener against Pitt, which is still 137 days away.
The largest crowd ever to watch a spring football game at the U., estimated at 10,000, filled much of the west side of the stadium and was treated to an offensive extravaganza that culminated a month of spring football practices.
The Red team, coached by Brian Johnson, the newest member of the Ute coaching staff, defeated the White team 28-23 in a 40-minute game with a running clock in the second half. Not only did the 46 players on the Red team get bragging rights over their teammates, they avoided cleanup duty at the football facility on Monday.
"It was a watered-down defense and we wanted it to be a clean game," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "Our defense was very limited and we wanted to see the offense step up and do some things. We had a bunch of guys that played well."
The Utes and their fans got a scare on the first play of the game when quarterback Jordan Wynn hurt his left (non-throwing) shoulder diving after a fumble. He came up holding his shoulder and left the game for good. Afterward, Whittingham said Wynn had already been X-rayed and that he "might have tweaked the joint a little bit," but should be fine.
With Wynn, who was only going to play one quarter anyway, out of the game, the White team turned to redshirt freshman Griff Robles, who played the rest of the way, completing 18-of-26 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown on a pretty 38-yard pass to DeVonte Christopher down the left sideline.
Terrance Cain, who started Utah's first eight games last season before giving way to Wynn, had his first pass intercepted by sophomore safety Jake Orchard, who returned it 20 yards for a touchdown. However, Cain settled down after that to complete 14 of his next 15 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns.
"I started off a little shaky, but we ended up with a win," said Cain. "The receivers got open and made plays."
His two top receivers were Griffin McNabb, a walk-on from Pocatello, Idaho, and Westlee Tonga, a freshman from Texas, who each had five catches for a total of 186 yards. Both players were singled out by Whittingham after the game, along with safety Justin Taplin-Ross, defensive tackle Neli A'asa, offensive lineman Percy Taumoelau and defensive back Conroy Black.
The longest play of the game was Cain's 61-yard pass to McNabb, who made a couple of nifty moves to find the end zone. The best running play of the game was a double-reverse where Cain gave it to Sausan Shakerin, who pitched to McNabb, who gave it back to Cain, who scampered up the east sideline for a 37-yard gain.
The White team led 16-7 after Orchard's interception return, the Robles-to-Christopher pass and a safety by Lei Talamaivao, who tackled Cain in the end zone.
However, Cain led the Red team to three straight touchdowns — a 4-yard pass to Victor Spikes, the 61-yarder to McNabb and a 6-yard run by Shawn Asiata, Matt's younger brother.
Tauni Vakapuna, the brother of former BYU player Fui Vakapuna, capped the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run for the White team in the final minutes.