Utah junior cornerback Jaylon Johnson will skip the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft, but coach Kyle Whittingham expects all of the team's healthy seniors to play against Texas on New Year's Eve in San Antonio.
In the team’s first media availability since a 37-15 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, Whittingham confirmed Johnson’s decision. As for other players, “I just figure they’ll let us know if that’s something they want to opt out of,” Whittingham said Saturday.
Running back Zack Moss, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, said he’ll play in San Antonio, explaining he “just wanted to play with my guys.” That’s one of the factors that led Moss to defer his NFL career until after this season, when he has become the school’s career rushing leader with 4,010 yards.
“I definitely want to go ahead and finish it off,” Moss added. “I'm healthy enough to go ahead and play, so that's exactly what I want to do.”
Whittingham said his approach with draft candidates including Johnson regarding a bowl game is to “give my advice and my opinion, but it’s ultimately the player’s decision.”
Johnson had announced his plans to enter the 2020 NFL draft, without addressing the Alamo Bowl. In his absence, seniors Josh Nurse and Tareke Lewis will become the starting cornerbacks after partly sharing the position opposite Johnson. Nickel back Javelin Guidry and strong safety Terrell Burgess also can play corner if necessary, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said.
The Utes also will be missing All-Pac-12 free safety Julian Blackmon and his primary backup, R.J. Hubert, who were injured against Oregon. Nephi Sewell, who was activated for the last regular-season game after receiving an NCAA waiver as a transfer from Nevada, filled in during the conference title game. Vonte Davis is another reserve safety.
Utah's patchwork secondary with face Texas' prolific passing game with quarterback Sam Ehlinger. “It's a challenge, but that's why you recruit, that's why you develop [players],” Scalley said.
Scalley expressed appreciation to Whittingham and athletic director Mark Harlan for a contract amendment announced Monday, but declined to say whether the deal includes a provision that will make him Whittingham's eventual successor.
Utah hopes to have receiver Bryan Thompson available, Whittingham said, after he missed the last two games due to injury. Quarterback Cameron Rising, a Texas transfer, will be allowed to dress for the game after completing residency requirements.
The NCAA’s December signing period begins Wednesday, and the Utes went into the weekend with 11 commitments from high school players — plus transfer quarterbacks Jake Bentley (South Carolina) and Peyton Powell (Baylor).
Viewmont offensive tackle Alex Harrison, the state's No. 5-ranked prospect by 247Sports, announced his commitment Thursday. Six of the 11 prep athletes are from Texas.
The Utes are hosting several prospects on campus this weekend, including Bingham linebacker Sione Fotu, Corner Canyon defensive end Van Fillinger and Lone Peak safety Nate Ritchie, according to 247Sports. Fillinger reopened his recruitment after formerly committing to Texas.
Ute defensive end Bradlee Anae was named to the Walter Camp All-America first team and defensive tackle Leki Fotu and Johnson made the second team, announced during the annual college football awards show. Walter Camp is among the five teams that are part of the consensus All-America formula.
Anae is Utah’s ninth Walter Camp first-team selection, counting punter Tom Hackett’s two awards. The others are offensive tackle Jordan Gross, kicker Louie Sakoda, punt returner Shaky Smithson, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, defensive tackle Nate Orchard and punter Mitch Wishnowsky.