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Matt Piper and Kyle Goon
Matt Piper and Kyle Goon cover University of Utah sports teams for The Salt Lake Tribune. Matt Piper is on twitter at @matthew_piper, Kyle Goon is on twitter at @kylegoon

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Utah football notes — Running game sizzles in Saturday scrimmage (VIDEO)

How does a 5-foot-9, 172-pound back fight his way through a tackle?

Some speed, a stiff-arm, and maybe playing a little ticked off.

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"A lot of people think I'm too small," running back Troy McCormick said. "It's just running angry, really."

That combo added up to a 59-yard touchdown run, one of the highlight plays of the day for an offense that had unshakeable momentum in its ground game in its second fall scrimmage. Finishing with with a game-high 89 yards (tied with Kendal Thompson), McCormick made his case for being a key player in the Utes' attack this fall.

"Definitely, I deserve a role," he said. "But I'm going to keep competing, play my role, whatever it is, and just keep having fun."

McCormick is one of three backs in the mix to be the featured rusher, or - as coach Kyle Whittingham indicated might be the case Saturday - in some kind of rotation that could use each man's strength.

Bubba Poole had only two rushes for seven yards during the scrimmage, and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen mentioned his reps were limited. Devontae Booker had a rebound scrimmage with 73 yards and a touchdown.

Christensen said all are in the mix to be the starter, and McCormick, often seen as a complimentary piece rather than an every-down player, is making his presence known.

"He's an explosive player, continues to make big plays," he said. "We've got at least three playmakers at tailback we feel real good about."

Gonzalez shines from (tight) end to (defensive) end • Picking a defensive MVP of Saturday, one is hard pressed not to select one of the newest players to that side of the ball.

Wallace Gonzalez, a walk-on who began fall camp at tight end, had a smashing scrimmage debut as a defensive lineman, using his 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame to maul up front and notch a sack and a pick.

It was clear the freshman was maybe a little bit too excited to play defense for the first time: He couldn't remember who he sacked for a nine-yard loss (stats say it was Travis Wilson), he just was thrilled to have made the play.

"I could say it's definitely a lot less to worry about," Gonzalez said of adjusting to his new role. "I'm just kind of free to go, and I'm actually allowed to hit somebody first before they can hit me. It's kind of nice."

Gonzalez got his interception by dropping back into coverage against Thompson, and his soft hands he developed as a high school receiver and minor league baseball player paid off on the play for a turnover. He said he's still working on using his hands to shed blockers, as well as changing his mentality toward aggressiveness.

Whittingham said he'd meet Monday with Gonzalez to discuss where he'll play this fall. Both the offense and the defense want him.

"We're going to leave that up to Wallace right now," he said. "He looks like he could be a very good tight end, he could be a very good defensive end. We're going to make that decision based on his input."

Utes D allows big plays • Newton's third law of motion applies to football in many ways: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Which is to say for every highlight-reel, tackle-breaking run, there's a defender who is just as frustrated and disappointed as the runner is triumphant.

Someone has to lose for someone else to gain.

On of Saturday's biggest victims was freshman corner Monte Seabrook, who had a few plays where he couldn't wrap up or chase down. It's part of being a newcomer - the letdowns, the learning moments, and the relentless teasing.

Oh yeah: After Seabrook whiffed on bringing down McCormick on a big touchdown run, the offense began chanting his name in jest.

"I should've stayed calm, I didn't stay calm like I should have," he said. "I could've made a couple plays out there, just slipped up."

He was hardly the only guilty party on a defense that allowed 335 yards on the ground. Part of that can be chalked up to resting starters like Nate Orchard, Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris, but it has to get better, coaches said. Tackling, in particular, seemed to be an issue.

"We had plays where we thought we had a sack, and Kendal busted out for a touchdown," Sitake said. "We want our guys to make those plays. It's easy to say, 'Those other guys will make those plays,' but that's not true, we want to shore all that up."

Seabrook, for one, still has a lot to play for. He has a standing bet with Kendal Thompson that he can drive in Thompson's Cadillac Escalade for a day if he intercepts him twice during camp. He has one pick already.

Dielman, Asiata seem to be right side answer • For most of Saturday's scrimmage, the Utes played J.J. Dielman and Isaac Asiata together at right tackle and right guard respectively. While everyone awaits position battle decisions coming down Monday, that's one area that seems to have cleared up already.

"Isaac seems to be settling in that right guard spot," Whittingham said. "Dielman is getting better, he's still young."

That passing reference seems as much indication as any that J.J. Dielman is the guy at right tackle.

"Hope so," Dielman said after the scrimmage. "I went 100 percent and tried my hardest. We'll see."

Dielman has been in the mix to start since the beginning of fall camp, and he faced his stiffest competition from Asiata, one of his best friends on the line, who was prepared to move to tackle if the team wanted (or still could want, supposedly) Leka Uhatafe to start at right guard.

The arrangement now, Dielman said, seems to be working better and better as camp goes on.

"Me and Isaac have predominantly played together throughout camp, and we're starting to click as a unit, that right side," he said. "He's obviously had a little more experience than I have and he's helped me a lot."

*****

HIGHLIGHT • Troy McCormick's 59-yard run was the standout play of the media-observable period, as the slightly built back took off for a big touchdown. The redshirt freshman has asserted himself in competition with Bubba Poole and Devontae Booker.

STANDOUT(S) • In the diplomatic spirit of the coaching staff, it's a tie between Travis Wilson (11-for-22, 145 pass yards, 53 rush yards, 3 total TDs, one INT) and Kendal Thompson (8-for-18, 129 pass yards, 89 rush yards, 4 total TDs, one INT). Stack the numbers however you want: They're both pretty close. Going live for maybe the last time in fall camp, both passers answered when Whittingham called them out after Tuesday's scrimmage.

POSITION SPOTLIGHT • The banged-up linebacker spot got a little deeper this week with the addition of Pita Taumoepenu, transferring over from the ends. Kalani Sitake said he was pleased with Taumoepenu's adjustment to that role. There was at least one pad-shaking tackle Taumoepenu made on a third-down stop.

QUOTE OF THE DAY • J.J. Dielman and Isaac Asiata apparently have a nickname for their position group, specifically their portion of the offensive line. Asked about the position battles at right guard and right tackle, Dielman asked, "Oh, that right-side die-side?"

— Kyle Goon

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon



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