There was a lot going on with Utah’s running backs Saturday night.
It ends with a 34-13 win over Arizona State ... but where to begin?
Usual starter Tavion Thomas traveled, dressed, warmed up, then didn’t play in the first half as true freshman Jaylon Glover got his first career start.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was asked postgame if Thomas was available in the first half.
“Yeah, he was available physically, but we were planning to play him in the second half this game,” Whittingham said. “Sometimes, things happen and you have to make certain moves. That was an internal thing, but Tavion’s healthy and fine.”
Whittingham didn’t go all the way to saying it, but when a coach breaks out the word “internal,” that is often code for a suspension. Whittingham did not make that clear. Thomas is expected to be back to full work when Utah hosts Oregon State on Saturday.
In Thomas’ place, Glover continued to give off vibes of optimism as his role increased. He ripped off an 11-yard run up the middle on the first play from scrimmage before finishing with 48 yards on a career-high 13 carries. For the season, Glover is averaging 4.4 yards on 31 carries.
Then came another shakeup at the position.
When Chris Curry was lost for the season with an ankle injury, the staff went to backup quarterback Ja’Quinden Jackson about a potential move to running back. In surveying their options, Jackson made sense. He has a running back background from early in his high school career, he’s comfortable running the ball as a dual-threat quarterback, and he wanted to get on the field.
Jackson looked very comfortable, rushing nine times for 31 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.
Whittingham noted two things postgame. Jackson was all-in when he was approached about this, and this is in place “until further notice.” That likely means the rest of the season, barring injuries at quarterback, in which case Jackson probably moves back there.
With Jackson now at running back, true freshman quarterback Nate Johnson was elevated to third string, traveled to Tempe, and dressed for the first time. Johnson has drawn positive reviews from Whittingham, Ludwig, and Morgan Scalley this month for his work on the scout team. This situation, with Johnson getting a promotion yields new questions.
If Jackson works out as a running back, would a move back to QB make sense? There’s a spring/summer quarterback competition coming ahead of the 2023 season. Is Johnson going to get a legitimate crack at it? For that matter, does Jackson, who has never competed to be Utah’s starter, get a crack at it? Or does this position change become permanent?
There is, indeed, a lot going on in Utah’s running backs room at the moment.