Bleeding Red: Ramping up the O was football’s spring focus

What’s the best about the Spring Game?
It’s definitely not the rain!
Shorter lines at the urinals?
Close, but no—hope springs eternal!

COMMENTARY — Spring football is kind of like being celibate and engaged — you get really, really excited about something, but then you still have to wait what seems like an eternity before you can fully enjoy it.

The Utes held their annual Spring Game last Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. While the clouds literally did rain on my parade that day, I still couldn’t help feeling giddy about the prospect of a new football season filled with hope.

The past few years, the offense has been the Achilles heel of Utah’s gridiron gang. At first blush, Utah’s offense appeared unstoppable last Saturday. However, there are a number of factors that fans have to keep in mind.

First and foremost, the Spring Game was focused almost entirely on showcasing the offense. No kickoffs, no punt returns, and most importantly — no hitting the quarterback. The defense ran a plain vanilla scheme with no blitzes or other exotic twists. On the other side of the ball, the offensive playbook was wide open. Additionally, many defensive starters did not even play, including Brian Blechen and Trevor Reilly.

Nevertheless, it was still nice to see some offensive fireworks.

The impact of Dennis Erickson on the offense is already apparent. While many aspects of the offense have been simplified, new twists have been thrown in. The first play of the Spring Game was an inside zone read running play, and we are going to see plenty of that throughout the season. Erickson has eliminated the fullback and integrated the running back into the passing game. The offense is also now playing at a quicker pace in an effort to run more plays per game, thereby providing more opportunities for big plays and scores.

Utah has also benefited from an upgrade in talent on the offensive side of the ball. Two positions which have seen the most improvement are quarterback and running back.

While Utah struggled to put a quality quarterback on the field the first time Jordan Wynn went down with an injury, Utah now has a number of legitimate quarterbacks who should be given a shot to compete for the job.

Travis Wilson was solid, and had the best overall stats of the quarterbacks on Saturday. Wilson went 13 of 17, for 210 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. However, Wilson saw little to no pressure from the defense, at times having an eternity to throw the ball. Wilson also missed a wide open receiver for what would have been an easy touchdown.

Adam Shultz also played well going 9 for 20, for 245 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Unlike Wilson, Schultz was hounded by the defense all afternoon. Shultz showed poise by consistently keeping his eyes downfield and making plays with his arm in spite of the pressure from the defense. My favorite play by Schultz was his first play from scrimmage in which he connected on a 57-yard bomb to Dres Anderson. Schultz has the strongest arm of the quarterbacks and reputedly can stand on the goal line and throw a football out of the stadium.

True freshman Brandon Cox had played well in spring practice before getting hurt and did not participate in the Spring Game. Consequently, walk-on Logan Bateman was given an opportunity to take some limited snaps in the Spring Game.

The quarterback who may ultimately prove to be the best of the bunch wasn’t even on the field. Connor Manning is still attending El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Calif. Too bad he couldn’t have graduated early in order to participate in spring ball.

While I would hate to see a quarterback controversy linger past the opening game, Utah needs to put the best quarterback behind center, not just the quarterback who has taken the most snaps in prior games.

Utah also has a number of quality running backs who should see significant playing time. Four different backs averaged more than five yards per carry in Saturday’s Spring Game.

Converted fullback Karl Williams stole the show with 108 yard on 19 carries for an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Williams also had 3 touchdowns.

Kelvin York was solid rushing for 79 yards on 13 carries for an average of 6.1 yards per carry — effective, but not necessarily spectacular.

James Poole showed promise, carrying the ball 10 times for 62 yards for an average of 6.2 yards per carry. Poole also had the most catches out of the backfield with 4 for 49 yards.

Lucky Radley only rushed 3 times for 16 yards. However, two of those runs crossed the goal line for touchdowns. Radley also had an impressive catch-and-run, racing 53 yards downfield. Unfortunately, a defender punched the ball out of his arms at the 12 yard line and the resulting fumble went out of the end zone for a touchback.

And yet, incumbents who saw significant playing time last season still appear to be the presumptive starters this season. That is good news for Wilson and York. Personally, I do not believe that playing any role in last year’s disaster of an offense should give any player a leg up going in to this season. May the best man win (play).

These next four months are going to be as tough to wait out as my four-month engagement — and I am truly grateful that was only four months! Here’s to hoping next football season will be as fun as my honeymoon.


Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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