A decision on the starting quarterback at the University of Utah was not finalized on Saturday morning as fall camp came to a close, but a decision is now imminent.
Following the Utes’ second and final live scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham was not ready to choose between Charlie Brewer and Cam Rising, but that decision was set to be made internally on Saturday evening after the coaching staff had a chance to watch film of the scrimmage.
When Utah reconvenes for practice on Monday, a starting quarterback will be in place. As for if and when Whittingham will make his decision public, he noted that the season’s first depth chart will be released on Thursday, one week from the Sept. 2 opener vs. Weber State.
A depth chart is merely a list of projected starters and is to always be taken with a grain of salt. To that end, there is nothing stopping Whittingham from sticking an “OR” between Brewer and Rising on the depth chart, furthering the mystery of who his starter will be, at least publicly.
“They’ve made it tough the entire time, and it’s going to be a close call,” Whittingham said. “We feel like we’ve got enough of a body of work now to make the call. They’re both really good players, and we have a really good situation, picking from two guys that are both quality quarterbacks.”
As one might expect at this point, Whittingham kept everything related to his quarterbacks close to the vest, but he did go on an interesting, relevant tangent when asked if this particular quarterback competition was as close and as tough to sort out as he’s had in his time as head coach of Utah, which dates back to 2005.
Whittingham said it was, before arguing against the notion that he has been guilty in the past, not to mention guilty now, of gamesmanship.
He cited fall camp in 2017, when seemingly everyone believed that incumbent Troy Williams would beat out then-sophomore Tyler Huntley for the job. Days after Williams was voted a captain, the job was given to Huntley. He then cited last fall when, with Huntley gone to the Baltimore Ravens, everyone seemingly thought that South Carolina graduate transfer Jake Bentley would win the job over Rising. The job eventually went to Rising, although he was lost for the season early in the season-opener, with Bentley starting the final four games.
In terms of Brewer vs. Rising, Whittingham has been consistent since camp began Aug. 4 that it was close, certainly too close to call after the first scrimmage on Aug. 14, so it wore on for another week.
“This is legitimate, and we’ll have a guy that we’ll name today,” Whittingham said. “It has been legitimately, completely a neck-and-neck competition and both of those guys have done a great job.”
As far as the situation at third-string quarterback between Ja’Quinden Jackson and Peter Costelli, Whittingham indicated they were still sorting it out, though he had a good idea of how it would end up. He declined to go into detail until he had a chance to speak with both players.
Brandon McKinney at safety, Van Fillinger at defensive end
The two primary position battles on the defensive side of the ball appear to have been solved as Utah begins focusing on Weber State.
Whittingham said Saturday that Washington transfer Brandon McKinney is working with the first-team defense at safety, opposite Vonte Davis. While Davis started all five games in 2020, McKinney has been vying for the second safety spot, along with second-year freshman Kamo’i Latu and true freshman Cole Bishop.
Davis and McKinney have 77 games of Power Five experience between them, while Latu played all five games last season on special teams. Bishop has obviously never taken a collegiate snap.
At defensive end, Van Fillinger has emerged as the likely starter from a competition that included another second-year freshman, Xavier Carlton, and third-year freshman Miki Suguturaga.
Whittingham noted that Carlton was down for a few days recently with an injury, and Fillinger took advantage of the opportunity for increased work.
“The light switch has gone on for him during this fall camp,” Whittingham said. “We’re expecting him to have a really solid year.”
Carlton is currently No. 3 on the depth chart behind Carlton and two-time All-Pac-12 defensive end Mika Tafua.
Offensive line is a concern as opener looms
With questions at quarterback, safety and defensive end settled, or on the way to being settled, the lone area that Whittingham has expressed concern is offensive line.
Depth is not the issue, Whittingham and his staff generally produce 10 or 11 options they feel comfortable with. The issue is currently getting the five best options on the practice field at the same time. That has proven tough thanks to minor injuries throughout camp.
Given the date, time is running out for Whittingham to get the five best offensive lineman on the practice field at the same time. It is unclear who is hurt, but it should be noted that All-Pac-12 lineman Nick Ford, the projected starter at center, is versatile enough to play any position along the line if Whittingham needs to mix and match spots.
“We’ve had a lot of guys banged up,” Whittingham said. “That’s probably the most concerning thing right now, is the continuity of the o-line because it’s been a revolving door with guys getting dinged. That needs to change, we have to get them playing together as a unit.”