SALT LAKE CITY — Spring football came to a close Saturday afternoon for the Utah Utes with the program’s annual Red-White game, played at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Red team came away with the win in the showcase, 21-14.
All 35 points scored came in the first half, in a “really watered down, vanilla,” offensive scheme, per head coach Kyle Whittingham.
The scoreless second half, meanwhile, was a demonstration of Utah’s effectiveness on defense when combined with a running clock.
The game had its highlights on both sides of the ball, including a 59-yard reception by wide receiver Bryan Thompson on a pass from quarterback Tyler Huntley.
There were also a pair of touchdown passes thrown by backup quarterbacks Jason Shelley and Cameron Rising, who finished a combined 15 for 20 through the air to lead the Red team to victory.
Defensively, edge rusher Tyler Gonzalez racked up a pair of sacks for the White team, while a late interception of quarterback Drew Lisk, by defensive back Nephi Sewell, proved the highlight for Red.
“It was pretty fun, very competitive,” Shelley said. “Had some fun out here, watching guys make plays, watching guys do their thing.”
“There were some good things,” Whittingham added. “The offense executed well. That was a really watered down version, we didn’t have a lot that we showed, but I thought the execution was clean for the most part. We did a pretty good job taking care of the football.”
No one was better at that than Huntley.
The senior signal caller played the entire first half and completed 8 of 9 passes for 158 yards. He also rushed for 16 yards on two carries, one of which was a scamper into the end zone.
His performance, and more importantly his play throughout the spring, have resulted in high expectations.
“I think Tyler has the chance to have a great senior year and play the best football of his career,” offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. “It is my job to put him in that position and I look forward to mastering that task.”
Ludwig championed the performance of all of his quarterbacks, excluding Lisk’s late-game interception.
“I think the numbers were good. The interception late was a little disappointing, on a broken route, but quarterback play has improved throughout spring and I thought we finished out fairly well,” said Ludwig.
The coordinator also praised the team’s depth at running back — Devin Brumfield had the standout performance with 67 yards on 12 carries, not to mention a score — and ultimately the offense’s progression as a whole.
“I feel a lot better now than I did two weeks ago, as far as system acclimatization, mastering the new terminology,” said Ludwig. “The first spring in a transition period is about being productive. I thought it was an extremely productive 15 practices. We aren’t anywhere near complete, the final product isn’t close, but this’ll serve as a good springboard into the summer.”
The Utes’ defensive scheme was just as vanilla as the offense’s on Saturday, for good reason.
“It gives the young guys the opportunity to stop thinking and just go around and play.” Whittingham said.
The development of young defensive players was the primary focus of spring for coordinator Morgan Scalley.
“A lot of it was wanting to see continued development out of those guys,” he said.
Excluding the linebacker position — where spots on the two-deep remain completely up for grabs — it was mission accomplished.
“We accomplished quite a lot,” Scalley said. “Obviously the D-front is very good, but with the move of Julian Blackmon to safety we wanted to get some corner depth as well. Tareke Lewis has made a lot of progress, as have Bronson Boyd and Josh Nurse.”
Scalley singled out defensive tackle Viane Moala for a strong spring, noting that the Hawaiian will get quite a few reps come fall. Blackmon was also touted as a natural at safety.
Linebacker remains the biggest question mark on defense — “We are still thin there,” said Whittingham — but the play of Devin Lloyd has created a three-way battle for starting reps.13 comments on this story
“(Lloyd) has always been a long and athletic kid, but now he is coming into his own,” said Scalley. “He is more confident with the scheme and it is showing.”
In addition to linebacker, question marks remain along the offensive line as well as with the kicking game, but that was to be expected according to Whittingham.
All told, spring football served its intended purpose.
“I think we had some answers given to us in these 15 practices,” Whittingham said. “We’ve made progress, but that will be ongoing into the fall and well into fall camp.”