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SALT LAKE CITY -- A season-ending injury to all-conference offensive tackle Jason Boone had a ripple effect throughout the team, but the Utes rallied for a solid scrimmage on Saturday - their first of the fall camp.
Boone left practice yesterday afternoon with a knee injury that was later diagnosed as a torn ACL. It could mark the end of the three-year letterman's career since he redshirted as a freshman in 2003. He started at right tackle in 2005 and 2006 before moving to left tackle last spring.
"Left tackle is the most critical position on the offensive line, since most teams put their best pass rusher at right end," said head coach Kyle Whittingham. "It is a big blow to Jason and to us, but we have four quality tackles remaining and we'll adjust."
One of those four is sophomore Zeke Tuinei-Wily - a defensive tackle until last night when the extent of Boone's injury was learned. Tuinei-Wily got his first test as an offensive lineman at Saturday's scrimmage, backing up starting right tackle Dustin Hensel. Moving up together at left tackle were junior Corey Seiuli and redshirt freshman Walter Watts.
"Whichever of those two guys (Seiuli or Watts) shows the most consistency will win the starting job," said Whittngham.
The ripple effect caused by the loss of Boone prompted the coaches to cut a planned 80-play scrimmage to around 50 plays - preceded by 12 periods of normal practice drills. "With the changes, we wanted to do some teaching before we began scrimmaging," explained Whittingham.
The scrimmage began with a 44-yard breakaway run by Darryl Poston, playing for the No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense. The `two's' advanced all the way to the 14-yard line before settling for a 31-yard field goal by Ben Vroman.
That first series set the tone for the scrimmage, which featured good offensive ball movement and key defensive stops. Four of Utah's five scoring drives ended in field goals, with the only touchdown coming on a 39-yard hook-up between Brian Johnson and Brian Hernandez. Hernandez was Johnson's favorite target and he led the team with five catches for 89 yards. Johnson completed 11 of 22 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. He threw the only interception of the day - a spectacular one-handed pick by Sean Smith in the end zone. Receivers dropped three Johnson passes and a long touchdown play between Johnson and Bradon Godfrey was called back on a penalty.
Tommy Grady looked sharp leading the second string offense. He completed eight of 17 passes for 81 yards, including a 20-yard pass to freshman Jereme Brooks. Brooks finished with three catches for 39 yards.
Thanks to his 44-yard dash to start the scrimmage, Poston led all rushers with 50 yards. Johnson carried the ball seven times for 33 yards, and his ability to run will relieve some of the pressure on whoever wins the job at left tackle.
Taking advantage of an unusually busy day were place kickers Louie Sakoda and Vroman. Sakoda, the preseason MWC Special Teams Player of the Year, was 2-of-2 with a long of 49 (his other kick was from 30 yards out). Vroman got most of the work, making 5-of-9 kicks, including a 57-yarder (others were 31 and 34 yards). The coaches tested Vroman's big leg time and again and his misses were all from 52 yards or longer.
Smith's acrobatic interception highlighted a steady day by the defense, which is showing signs of improvement in the secondary, according to Whittingham. The line helped out by pressuring Johnson and Grady, led by Alex Puccinelli (2.5 sacks) and Aaron Tonga (2.0 sacks). Also recording sacks were linemen Koa Misi and Neli A'asa, while linebacker Malakai Mokofisi also got in for a hit in the backfield. Six Utes recorded pass breakups.