1 of 11
Tom Smart, Deseret News
FILE: Former Utah player Robert Johnson yells to the crowd as the University of Utah and Texas Christian University (TCU) play football Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I think we’ve got a real good team. I went to some of the practices and watched them a little bit and we’ve got some talent. —Former Ute Robert Johnson

SALT LAKE CITY — At no point during the year is there more hope, excitement or optimism for college football than during spring. Spring practices around the country are surrounded by stories of massive improvement, incredible hype, future superstars, and sometimes a fib or two.

It was no different at the University of Utah this spring, with one major exception — the hope may actually continue into the fall.

That is what happens when you get an ending to spring football like the one Matt Gay provided Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The kicker drilled a 57-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the Red team to a 25-23 win.

The Red and White game wasn’t the only game played Saturday, even if it was the most meaningful.

Utah fans arrived at the stadium as early as 6 a.m., for a morning dedicated to football that included tailgating and a pair of flag-football games, featuring the MUSS and alumni.

As always, the Alumni game had its fair share of NFL veterans, and on this particular occasion it was current Utah defensive line coach Lewis Powell and former Tennessee Titan Robert Johnson who stood out.

Powell and Johnson both ‘suited’ up of the Red team, which won 27-8.

Powell played quarterback and tossed a few touchdown passes, while Johnson was simply all over the field.

The game was barely about football, if it all.

“It is about seeing the boys,” said Johnson. “It is hard to find a group of guys that have one goal and when you come back and get to see some of those old guys it is fun.

As for the current Utah team, Johnson is optimistic.

“I think we’ve got a real good team. I went to some of the practices and watched them a little bit and we’ve got some talent.

“We have always had talent, on paper, but for some reason when the game is on the line we’ve made some mental mistakes. Coach (Kyle) Whitt(ingham) has said he has been trimming those down.”

Helping that cause is the return of Gary Andersen.

“When we had Coach Andersen, mistakes never really happened," said Johnson. "That was the system I played in, so it is a blessing that Coach Whitt brought back Coach A. On top of that, you are going to see a big difference in the offensive and defensive line play. Especially in the fourth quarter, which is key because the fourth quarter is where games are won.”

NOTABLE ABSENCES: A host of Utes were held out or made unavailable for Saturday’s game, including offensive linemen Jackson Barton, Lo Falemaka, Darrin Paulo, Johnny Capra, Paul Toala, defensive linemen Rex Jordan, Caleb Repp and Bradlee Anae and wide receivers Bryan Thompson, Tyquez Hampton, Bronson Boyd and Henry McIsaac.

Linebackers Cody Barton, Chase Hansen, Donavan Thompson and Sione Lund also sat out, as did running backs Zack Moss and Devonta’e Henry-Cole and defensive backs Philip Afia, Quinn Fabrizio, Corrion Ballard, Marquise Blair, Jaylon Johnson and Julian Blackmon.

There were key absences in the alumni game as well, most notably former star quarterback and frequent alumni game participant Scott Mitchell, as well as longtime announcer and voice of the Utes Bill Marcroft.

BRIEF STINT: Unlike the aforementioned players, starting quarterback Tyler Huntley played, as did tight end Jake Jackson, but only for a half.

In his short time on the field, Huntley completed 6 of 12 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.

“Tyler played great. He has had an exceptional spring, not just completing balls within the offense but also throwing balls away,” offensive coordinator Troy Taylor said.

MUSS: The White team did pick up one win Saturday, during the MUSS game. Thanks in part to Josh Stephens, who was named MVP, the White team defeated the Red team 19-12.

TWITTER: @trentdwood