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Tom Smart, Deseret News
University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham looks on during the U.'s football scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City Wednesday. The Utes are preparing for their season opener Aug. 30 at the University of Michigan.

Utah's offense continued its "dramatic improvement" with a strong showing in Wednesday's scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"It was good," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It was by far the best we've looked offensively through camp."

Particularly the second unit, he added, which started to move the ball and execute — something they haven't done all camp long.

Whittingham called it a "real positive day" and noted that the offense picked up where it left off in Tuesday's practice — moving forward.

"The last two days we've made dramatic improvement," he said.

Though no official statistics were kept in Wednesday's situational scrimmage, there were some noteworthy plays in the 60-snap affair that also featured significant special-teams work.

The offense, particularly the running backs, excelled.

Senior Ray Stowers got things started with a 20-yard run. Later in the scrimmage, true freshman Sausan Shakerin broke loose for 35 yards. Sophomore Eddie Wide had a 25-yard touchdown romp in a red-zone situation.

"We ran the ball effectively. The backs did a nice job," said Whittingham, who noted that the offensive line had something to do with the production.

Darrell Mack and Matt Asiata, who currently top the depth chart at running back, also had solid showings in the ground-game breakout.

"I think we did a better job than any other day," Mack said. "But we've still got a lot to improve on."

Utah's passing game also fared well. Quarterback Brian Johnson threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Bradon Godfrey and later teamed with Jereme Brooks on a 19-yard scoring strike.

"It was better. We got a lot of good work done today," Johnson said. "We made some strides and did some nice things offensively. Pieces are starting to come together."

The timing couldn't be better. The scrimmage basically served as the camp finale. The Utes began focusing on their Aug. 30 season opener at Michigan in a light afternoon practice.

"We now have to make that transition," Johnson said. "We've got a veteran group, and guys will do that just fine."

Wednesday's scrimmage, though, will be reviewed closely by the defense.

Defensive coordinator Gary Andersen acknowledged the run wasn't stopped very well, particularly early on in four-minute situations.

Safety Robert Johnson said it opened some eyes and will be dealt with after reviewing the film.

"Now we've just got to see it and correct it," he explained.

Otherwise, Andersen thought there was a lot of "give and take" between the offense and defense.

"Today was a scrimmage that went back and forth. Obviously the 'O' made some plays. ... Some great catches were made," said Andersen, who added that it was fantastic to see the offense succeed against some pretty good coverage.

"It's competitive. We've gone against a very good offense all camp long," he continued. "These guys are good. They're fast, they run, and they do things well."

Utah's special teams also made news. All-American kicker/punter Louie Sakoda was held out of the scrimmage for precautionary reasons with what is believed to be a spider bite on his calf. He's expected to be back in a day or two.

Backup Ben Vroman made field goals from 47 and 31 yards out, while third-stringer Sean Sellwood connected on a 32-yard kick. David Reed and Jereme Brooks had impressive punt returns.

Other than a "few bumps and bruises" and a "couple of headaches," Whittingham said the Utes came out of the scrimmage healthy.

The Utes have single practices set for the next three days.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com