The Utes offense will still have key players at skill positions to integrate into the offense during preseason camp, but it has shown signs of being more formidable than last season based solely upon the improvement of several first-time starters.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley, who won the starting job last season as a sophomore, looked sharp and accurate throwing the ball, particularly early, in Saturday’s second scrimmage of the preseason on a rainy day at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Huntley passed for more than 70 yards and completed a pair of touchdown passes, including one to wide receiver Jaylen Dixon, who was the offensive standout of the day. Running back Zack Moss, who grew into a workhorse back late last season, also ran for a touchdown in limited action.
“I think we are maturing throughout this spring,” Moss said of the offense. “Guys have just been more locked in, more focused, trusting the play call, understanding it does work. I think it’s just maturity. We’re doing the right things in the right way.”
The offense enters its second season under offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. Huntley, Moss and several members of the offensive line were first-time starters last season. Moss finished his first season as the starter with 1,217 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
Dixon, a redshirt freshman from Texas, caught four touchdown passes in the scrimmage. He hauled in one apiece from freshman Jack Tuttle and Huntley as well as two from his former high school teammate Jason Shelley.
“Jaylen Dixon played well — should’ve had another (touchdown),” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Tyler Huntley played well. Protection was good, that was really good to see. The protection from the offensive line, particularly from the ones was really good.”
Whittingham said he was impressed with what he saw from Moss in his brief appearance. Bronson Boyd, who’d been banged up this week in practice, did not participate in the scrimmage and, defensively, returning starters Chase Hansen and Bradlee Anae were among the players who saw very limited action.
“Some guys need more work than others at this point in time,” Whittingham said. “That gives the guys that are behind them opportunities to get more reps. I think it does two things. It helps keep guys healthy, and it also gives guys an opportunity that desperately need the work.”
While the offense controlled the early stages of the scrimmage, the defense bounced back to stop the offense in some of the situational periods such as four-minute offense and the two-minute drill.
The Utes held their spring coaches clinic on Saturday with more than 100 high school coaches from Utah, California, Idaho and Wyoming spending part of the day on campus.
Many of the coaches were on the sidelines for the scrimmage, and they were also invited to hear talks from former NFL linebacker Jerry Robinson, former Utah coach Jim Fassell, who went on to coach in the NFL and led the New York Giants to a Super Bowl appearance, as well as Utah graduate and former grad assistant George Seifert. Seifert won Super Bowls as a defensive backs coach, defensive coordinator and as head coach with the San Francisco 49ers.
Fassel recruited current Utes associate head coach Gary Andersen. Andersen, who returned to the staff this offseason, had been at the helm of Utah State, Wisconsin and Oregon State programs since leaving the Utes staff in 2009. Andersen was the first player to commit after Fassel became the Utes’ coach in 1985.
“He was exactly what you want as a player,” Fassel said of Andersen. “He was a leader. He was a hard worker. He had good talent. I was thrilled to get him. And he was one of those guys where he wouldn’t let anybody get out of whack. People respected him because of his work ethic and how he could play the game.”