SALT LAKE CITY — The Red team got a slow start in Saturday's spring game but got the momentum rolling in the second quarter and never looked back. The Red team went on to beat the White team 28-27 after a failed two-point conversion attempt by the White team in the fourth quarter.
Although the talk entering spring practice this season revolved around the so-called quarterback controversy, it was the running backs that had the best day.
Junior transfer Devontae Booker and redshirt freshman Troy McCormick got most of the game's reps for their respective teams and were key to much of the game's 258 total yards of rushing offense.
Booker was effective in extending the play after taking initial hits for the White team. He had 103 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. McCormick used his quick speed and field vision to move the ball for the Red team, finishing the game with 34 rushing yards and one touchdowns on eight carries. He also had 67 receiving yards on four catches.
"We've been high on Devontae Booker ever since he got here," head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He didn't get here more than a week or two before the start of spring ball, so he was fighting his lack of conditioning all spring. But as soon as he gets himself in great shape, I think he'll be a very good running back in this conference. All of the running backs ran hard today. A strong running game is where everything begins, even if you are a spread team."
The White team got on the board first after Adam Schulz found receiver Dominique Hatfield for a 43-yard touchdown pass to take an early 7-0 lead. Schulz ended the game going nine of 13 for 110 yards and one touchdown. Hatfield finished with 93 yards on four catches.
We had a lot of guys making plays. A few too many times we had balls on the ground, and we've got to clean that up. But it was good to see Dominique Hatfield and some other guys make some plays.
"We had a lot of guys making plays," Whittingham said. "A few too many times we had balls on the ground, and we've got to clean that up. But it was good to see Dominique Hatfield and some other guys make some plays."
One of the biggest plays came at the end of the second quarter when quarterback Brandon Cox of the Red team found running back Bubba Poole on a quick route, which turned into a 71-yard gain after a few missed tackles by the defense. Poole was tackled at the 1 yard line, setting up Cox for a rushing touchdown the next play.
Cox finished the game going five of nine for 126 yards and one rushing touchdown. He also had two interceptions.
Last season's starting quarterback Travis Wilson, who was the only quarterback who could not be hit as a result of his head injury, struggled to get the offense moving early, going three-and-out on his first series. Wilson got the offense moving the next series, setting up McCormick for a 3-yard rushing touchdown. But Wilson didn't have a day that was spectacular, considering his touchdown performance at this year's first scrimmage. He ended the day going seven of 12 for 116 yards and one touchdown.
Despite being last season's starter, Wilson seemingly has a way to go before improving upon last season's ability. Throughout spring, however, Wilson was the best quarterback and is the best option the Utes have with the current roster. Quarterbacks Kendal Thompson, who transferred from Oklahoma earlier this year, and freshman Donovan Isom will join the program this fall and will likely be instant contenders for the position.
Wilson, however, did not have his normal targets of Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott, who are expected to be the season's starters this fall, on the field to throw to Saturday. Both were held out as a precaution. Additionally, offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi was held out, leaving Wilson more exposed than in a regular game situation.
"Each of the quarterbacks did some good things," Whittingham said. "I thought it was a real positive to have all of them other than Travis 'live' because it gave us a chance to see them extend plays and make plays when things broke down. I thought the defense did a good job of flying around. There wasn't a lot they did from a schematic standpoint, but I thought they played hard."
Offensive tackle Jackson Barton, who got the start in place of Poutasi and is a freshman many thought would have an impact this upcoming season, had a rough day, getting beat numerous times by the opposing White defense. Barton certainly has the size and athletic ability for the position but needs some more strength for an opportunity to start on the line.