Utah football’s Nate Johnson won’t have to give up redshirt for Rose Bowl

The NCAA last week passed a blanket waiver exempting postseason participation from eligibility limit of four games.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Nate Johnson (13) celebrates a touchdown as the University of Utah hosts Arizona, NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.

Nate Johnson played a minor role for the University of Utah in the Pac-12 championship game, but what matters is, the true freshman quarterback played in that 47-24 win over USC.

Those reps marked the fourth game Johnson played in this season. Per NCAA rules, a player can play in up to four games and still maintain the season of eligibility via redshirt. With Johnson at four games played, it was unlikely he was going to play in the Rose Bowl vs. Penn State on Jan. 2.

Then, the NCAA stepped in.

Late last week, college sports’ governing body issued a one-time blanket waiver at the FBS level, making postseason participation exempt from the limit of four games. That means Johnson, and likely several other Utes sitting at the four-game limit, can play in the Rose Bowl without losing the year of eligibility. Regardless of his participation on Jan. 2, Johnson will be a redshirt freshman in 2023.

“That’s a huge positive, and we have four or five guys that will be available now that would not have been,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said Tuesday after practice. “With the transfer portal, and injuries, and this time of the year, you need everyone that you possibly can get.”

Added Johnson: “After the rule was passed, things changed a lot. Coach (Ludwig) now is possibly going to include me in the game plan when we play Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Having that rule passed is really great because it gives freshmen who have already played four games and want to redshirt, it gives them an opportunity to play in a bowl game, and have that college experience.”

Johnson indicated on Tuesday that he was expecting to redshirt after he got to the four-game limit, but never formally discussed the matter with Whittingham and Ludwig. Whittingham has said in the past that when young players are at three or four games, he will often have a discussion about potentially redshirting.

Johnson has become a late-season weapon for the Utes after he debuted on Nov. 5 vs. Arizona with touchdown runs on his first two touches. He threw a touchdown pass the next week vs. Stanford, then had a brief, nondescript showing at Oregon before appearing in the Pac-12 championship game.

These short, sometimes-electric glimpses have some hopeful Johnson can win the starting job in 2023, should quarterback Cam Rising decide to leave his sixth and final year of eligibility on the table. Rising has not made his plans publicly known, while Johnson balked when asked if Rising has already made his plans known to his teammates.

For now, Johnson, a native of Clovis, Calif., is trying to take in his first Rose Bowl.

“It really means a lot,” Johnson said. “This was one of my goals I wrote down during my sophomore year of high school. When I got to college, I wanted to win a championship my first year or be in one of the big bowl games.

“Those things are coming true. God has blessed our team yet again to go back to the Rose Bowl. Being in the Rose Bowl the first year here, we’re doing something good over here.”

Jadon Redding no longer with Utah

When Utah released its depth chart for the Rose Bowl on Monday, kicker Jadon Redding was noticeably not on it.

On Tuesday, Whittingham acknowledged the omission.

“He’s moving on, Jadon is moving on,” Whittingham said. “Jordan Noyes will be our placekicker, and we’re having a battle that will end this week for the backup.

“Jadon is not on the roster.”

Redding was the All-Pac-12 first-team kicker during the COVID-shortened 2020 season after going a perfect 17-for-17 on PATs and 8-for-8 on field goals for a team-high 41 points. Since then, Redding has struggled at times, winning and losing the job multiple times in preseason and in-season competitions vs Noyes. In 2021 and 2022 combined, Redding was 14-for-20 on field goal attempts and 76-for-79 on extra points.

Redding was not in the NCAA Transfer Portal as of Tuesday afternoon, per a source with access to the national database.