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Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News
Utah’s Joey Wood (32) is brought to the ground by teammate Chris Hart (8) near Alassane Niang (34) as they practice with the rest of the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 30, 2018.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham believes his team is right where it’s supposed to be after Friday afternoon’s scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“We have accomplished what we’ve wanted to up to this point,” Whittingham said.
Since both the first- and second-string players had been limited to just six to eight live reps before Friday, the scrimmage offered the first real glimpse of what the 2018-19 Utes might eventually become.
It was a bit of a mixed bag.
“Today was the first extensive live work, and that was by design,” Whittingham said. “There will be a lot of live reps from this point going forward, through the end of spring.
“We are getting closer and closer to where we want to be, but no one cares about being close. We have to get over that hump, and we are working hard towards that end. That being said, we have a lot more to go.”
That was especially true on the offensive end, something Ute fans have heard more than a few times over the years.
“I thought we were a little bit out of sync (on offense),” said Whittingham. “There were some errant snaps that gave us some problems.”
“We started off real slow,” added quarterback Tyler Huntley. “Real slow.”
The slow start included two interceptions, which were snagged by Cody Barton and Josh Nurse, not to mention a forced fumble and subsequent fumble recovery.
There were mitigating circumstances, however, as the second-team offense, led by quarterback Jason Shelley, was playing with the fourth-string snapper due to injuries to the second and third stringers.
Still, the offense began to show glimmers of what the team hopes it will eventually become.
Huntley showed tremendous touch on a pair of touchdown passes and adeptly handled a seemingly endless array of run-pass options. Running back Zack Moss showed off his ability to run both inside and outside of the tackles to great effect. Shelley ran for a score, and perhaps most importantly, after getting beat up early by the defensive line, the offensive line began to make some serious headway.
“As we got that first series out of us, our offense started to come together,” said Huntley. “I think we got out there today and did pretty good.
“The O-line is doing great,” he added. “They are learning and bettering themselves every day, just like everyone, but they are making great strides.”
“It was about what I expected overall,” said Whittingham. “I thought the offense made some plays. Zach Moss ran the ball good. It is tough to gauge, as always, in spring how good you are, but the guys are working hard, are unselfish and dialed in.”
While the offense had its ups and downs, the Utah defense was solid and energized.
“The defense really flew around,” said Whittingham. “I thought the D-line appeared solid. We made some plays in the secondary — we had those two interceptions.
“There was a lot of excitement, a lot of energy. That is generated from Cody Barton and Chase Hansen, two of our best leaders. We have a lot of leadership on that side of the ball.”
If the Utes have a strength at this point, it may be leadership, which Whittingham believes has the chance to make this years team a rare breed.
“This team has a great work ethic, there is focus, concentration and complete unselfishness, which is key,” said Whittingham. “Typically you are going to have a few guys here and there that are a little bit of ‘me’ guys, but on this team I can’t identify one of those guys. It is all team. That is very positive.”
The Utes will scrimmage again on Saturday April 7, and close out spring ball with their annual Red-White Game on April 14.
Until then, they will keep working.
“It was great to get out there, have fun and throw a couple of touchdowns,” said Huntley. “We are going to keep growing together and just keep working.”