With as many as 10 defensive starters sitting out and a vanilla defensive scheme, there may not have been a ton to learn at Utah’s Red-White game.
If anything, we now know this: The Utah offense can beat up on a dilapidated version of its own defense.
Spring game notables
» Travis Wilson passed for 116 yards and a touchdown in limited work as the offense piled up 734 total yards playing against a defense that was without most of its expected fall starters.
» Devontae Booker, a junior college transfer who arrived in Salt Lake City just a couple of weeks before spring camp started, received the lion’s share of the White Team’s carries and finished with 103 yards and two touchdowns.
» Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has talked about the need for explosive plays, and he got them Saturday. Dominique Hatfield caught a 46-yard touchdown pass from junior Adam Schulz, junior running back Bubba Poole took a short Brandon Cox pass 71 yards before flipping out of bounds at the 3-yard line, and Brian Allen juked a defender on a quick out from Wilson and sprinted 56 yards, untouched into the end zone.
» Sophomore defensive end Pita Taumoepenu had two tackles for loss, including a sack and a forced fumble on Schulz. Other defensive standouts include linebackers Filipo Mokofisi and Sal Velasquez, who both intercepted red zone passes from Brandon Cox, and coaches’ sons Alex Whittingham and Sharrieff Shah, who led their respective teams in tackles.
The Red Team, led by junior Travis Wilson, beat the White Team 28-27 while a crowd of 12,056 received an early taste of fall Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Grill smoke was in the air, notable ex-players were milling about on the sidelines, and the two offenses combined to amass 734 yards despite 10-minute quarters and a rolling clock in the second half.
"We knew that they were just going to be playing Cover 2 the whole time, so we didn’t use nearly half of our playbook," said junior quarterback Adam Schulz, who started for the White Team and went 4-for-8 for 79 yards and a score. "Which is fine. It’s just more fun."
Wilson went 7-for-12 for 116 yards and one touchdown. Although he wore a black jersey that meant he was off-limits, he ends spring having erased doubts about his ability to contribute after doctors discovered a pre-existing brain condition last season. Redshirt freshman Conner Manning finished 9-for-12 for 86 yards and a score to senior tight end Westlee Tonga.
"I thought each quarterback did some good things and it was really positive in our estimation to have everybody but Travis live, to see who was really capable of extending plays and making plays when everything breaks down," said head coach Kyle Whittingham.
Junior running back Devontae Booker led the White Team attack, carrying 19 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore wideout Dominique Hatfield added four catches for 93 yards and a score on a deep ball down the west sideline from Schulz.
The Ute offense is closer to the tempo that it’s looking for, said Whittingham, "but it’s still a little bit off pace. We expect to get that remedied early on in fall camp."
Red Team quarterback Brandon Cox had an up-and-down day. First he was breathtaking, hitting junior running back Bubba Poole for a 71-yard gain and then finishing the drive off with a 5-yard scramble after hustling his linemen up the field.
But he later threw red zone picks to linebackers Filipo Mokofisi and Sal Velasquez before chasing both down on the east sideline to prevent a return for six.
Following a Booker scoring dive on fourth down, the White Team went for the victory with a 2-point conversion attempt, but Dre’Vian Young was dropped for a loss.
Utes offensive coordinator Dave Christensen said he feels that spring ends with his offense on track for fall.
"We got a lot installed," Christensen said. "I don’t know that we’ll necessarily put everything in in training camp that we have in right now."
Between 14 and 16 expected fall starters were held out due either to injury or to prevent them from being injured — which is not unusual for a spring game, Whittingham said.
Those players included senior wideout Dres Anderson, senior safety Brian Blechen, senior safety Tevin Carter, senior linebacker Jacoby Hale, senior defensive tackle Sese Ianu, junior linebacker Jared Norris, senior defensive end Nate Orchard, senior cornerback Davion Orphey, junior linebacker Gionni Paul, sophomore offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi, senior safety/cornerback Eric Rowe, senior offensive guard Junior Salt, junior wide receiver Kenneth Scott, sophomore defensive tackle Stevie Tu’ikolovatu and junior linebacker Jason Whittingham.
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