Utah found a kicker, discovered something close to a starting offensive line and created some depth at linebacker in the team’s preseason football camp that ended Saturday with a closed scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
So, the Utes’ biggest questions in advance of the Aug. 29 season opener at BYU have been answered, at least partly. Utah also named five co-captains: quarterback Tyler Huntley and tackle Darrin Paulo from the offense, end Bradlee Anae and tackle Leki Fotu from the defense and freshman punter Ben Lennon, representing special teams.
Andrew Strauch, a graduate transfer from UCLA, is the No. 1 kicker, coach Kyle Whittingham said — although he’s not awarding Strauch a scholarship before seeing him kick in games. The offensive line is set, aside from guards Paul Toala and Johnny Maea alternating at one spot. Starting linebackers Francis Bernard and Devin Lloyd have inspired confidence, although Whittingham needs to see more from reserves such as Trennan Carlson, Sione Lund and Andrew Mata’afa.
“If we stay healthy at linebacker, knock on wood, we'll be just fine,” Whittingham said.
With school starting Monday, the Utes generally emerged from the camp phase in good health. “Some bumps and bruises,” Whittingham said, “but nothing that’s really just disastrous. We do have some guys that got injured.”
Whittingham usually discloses only long-term injuries. While discussing most of his two-deep roster at various points this month, he hasn't updated the status of running back Zack Moss, other than noting that Moss “didn't take any hits” in an Aug. 10 scrimmage.
On each of the last three days of camp, Whittingham awarded scholarships to a former walk-on. Tight end Ali’i Niumatalolo, defensive end Malik Haynes and running back Mason Woodward have been honored in the front of their teammates. Whittingham also promised a scholarship to the winner of the three-way kicking competition. Strauch has not earned that distinction yet, although Whittingham has named him the No. 1 kicker over Nels Haltom and Jadon Redding “right now.”
Whittingham added, “The ultimate litmus test is the game situation. We do have a scholarship set aside for a specialist, if they perform to a Pac-12 level.”
The left-footed Strauch, who kicked for UCLA in two games during his four years in the program, is Utah’s replacement for Lou Groza Award winner Matt Gay. In his second college football game, Gay kicked four field goals in a 19-13 win at BYU in 2017.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig liked the overall performance of his group in camp, saying players are “starting to develop some personality within the offensive structure” as “tough, hard-playing, intelligent football players.”
In Saturday's scrimmage, Ludwig said, “We weren't quite as productive on offense as we were last week. Plenty of things that were positive, just not quite as explosive as last week.”
Utah’s distributed video highlights showed Demari Simpkins turning a short reception into a long touchdown play and Samson Nacua catching a TD pass from redshirting quarterback Cameron Rising. Fua Pututau, a reserve defensive end, was shown returning an interception for a touchdown.
The offensive and defensive starters got less work in the second scrimmage, in the interest of preserving them.
The Utes came out of camp with “great chemistry, from the starters all the way down to players that aren’t playing,” quarterback Tyler Huntley said. “All of us have a got a great bond that we’ve built over the days, being together all the time.”