Even before halftime, Devontae Booker needed some stitches — well, for his jersey.
Small bands of fabric looped together the section of his white top that had been ripped by a defender trying to bring him down.
It was a tough task to drag Booker to the turf in Saturday’s spring game as he ran 103 yards on 19 carries with a pair of touchdowns, highlighting a position the Utes have come to see as a strength this spring.
“Every game I’m playing, I’m looking forward to making a statement,” he said. “Running hard each play and doing the things I do on the field.”
Booker appeared the most powerful of the backs, breaking tackles and falling forward for yards after contact. His longest run of the day, 22 yards, was the longest for any rusher during the afternoon.
Combined with Bubba Poole and Troy McCormick, the trio of running backs each had at least one play that stood out in the Red-White Game. Poole spun free of a tackle to turn a short pass into a 71-yard play. McCormick also made his mark in the receiving game with 67 yards on four receptions.
The carousel of backs could lend itself to a three-headed system this fall, as each of the three has personal strengths. While one may get more carries, the likelihood seems to be all will play.
“If somebody’s hot, they’re gonna play, that’s how I’ve always coached,” running backs coach Dennis Erickson said. “But they’ve all got different skills. We’ll use them in different situations.”
The coaching staff still wants more from Booker, who might be best suited to the grind-it-out situations for short yardage. Kyle Whittingham said he expects Booker to be a very good Pac-12 back once he gets in proper shape. Erickson echoed that comment.
“It’s not what it needs to be, and we can’t wait to see when he is where he needs to be,” he said. “But he’ll be with our conditioning guys all summer, so he’ll be in really great shape, and he’ll be pretty special when that happens.”
‘D’ nets turnovers in scrimmage
Even down eight or nine starters, the Utes defense managed to show some improvement in one area in which they hope to stand out next year: takeaways.
The White Team defense picked on Brandon Cox, twice managing to intercept the quarterback when the Red Team offense was in the red zone. Filipo Mokofisi and Sal Velasquez each notched more than 50 yards on their pick returns. And the turnovers weren’t limited to balls in the air: Three defenders forced fumbles, one of which was recovered by Daniel Nielson.
The Utes are hoping that translates to the fall after a season with only three interceptions.
“You don’t want to mention it too much because it kind of becomes the elephant in the room, more of a monster than you want it to be,” defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake said. “But our guys have responded the right way, and we’re making a lot more impact plays. I like the pressure we’re getting on the quarterback, and I like the big plays we’re making whether it’s forcing fumbles or making picks.”
Hatfield steps up
A little air might’ve left the stadium as fans realized Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott wouldn’t be playing in the game, but Dominique Hatfield quickly gave fans something to cheer about.
The sophomore receiver led all pass-catchers with 93 yards on four receptions, but the biggest was a 46-yard touchdown pass, the first of the exhibition. He leapt up over a couple of defensive backs to snag Adam Schulz’s long bomb out of the air. It had apparently been pre-planned before the contest
“I figured Dom was going to be moving today,” Schulz said. “I told him before the game, ‘Hey, if we get a chance, man, take off. I’m going to lob you one.’”
OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT • On a fourth down play, Travis Wilson found Brian Allen midway down the field, and the sophomore receiver managed to stutter-step his way to the end zone for a 56-yard play. It was Allen’s only catch of the scrimmage, and Wilson’s only touchdown pass.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHT • The Red Team was sniffing the end zone right before halftime, but Filipo Mokofisi put an end to that quickly. As time ran out, the defensive lineman managed to get his paws on a Brandon Cox pass and take it 52 yards down the sideline before being wrangled down by Cox himself.
STANDOUT • Devontae Booker offered fans a sneak peek to what he’s about. He had a game-high 103 rushing yards and two scores, including one from 10 yards out. Tough and hard-hitting, the running back has quickly made an impression on the coaching staff and will be in the mix for the starting position this fall.