Bleeding Red: Spring game leaves big question mark at QB position for U

Football, hoops, tumblers, are all on vacation
The dog days of summer await Ute nation
Once again spring fever is taking its toll
It’s time for some chicken soup for the Ute soul

COMMENTARY — It’s that time of year again when spring fever is reaching epidemic proportions. Typically the weather is the dominant factor in spring fever in general. However, the particular strain of this malady that affects me the most is influenced more by the winding down of collegiate athletics with nothing but the long drought of summer ahead until football starts up again in the fall.

When faced with a fever, mothers everywhere resort to the proverbial chicken soup to benefit the body and lift the soul. Accordingly, here is some chicken soup for the Ute soul to see you through until next fall.

Utah’s annual spring football game was played last Saturday in Rice-Eccles Stadium in front of more than 12,000 fans. As usual, Utah’s defense promises to be solid once again. The Utes should have a decent running game, led by Bubba Poole and Devontae Booker. However, all eyes were on the quarterbacks throughout the afternoon as this is the single most important position that will impact Utah’s chances of success in the coming season.

Not surprisingly, Travis Wilson started for the red squad, and was the only quarterback wearing a black jersey — meaning the defense could not hit him. Thus far, Wilson has only been cleared by the medical staff for non-contact drills. Even though he knew the defense could not hit him, Wilson appeared to be tentative in the pocket when pressured by the defense, and was anxious to run when flushed from the pocket instead of continuing to look for a play downfield. While it is still early in his return from his season-ending head injury, Wilson is looking a lot like Jordan Wynn after his return from injury — scared and ineffective against a plain vanilla base defense that wasn’t even allowed to hit him.

I was surprised that Adam Schulz got the starting nod for the white squad and continued to play for as long as he did. Schulz did complete a 46-yard touchdown pass, but that pass could have just as easily been intercepted with a defender in good position who failed to make the play. It is somewhat frustrating to see so many snaps going to Schulz when he has no realistic chance of starting in the fall in light of the other quarterbacks competing for the job. To put it another way, if Schulz stands any chance of starting in the fall, then Kyle Whittingham might as well start updating his resume right now.

Connor Manning played well, but not spectacular. Manning tied Schulz for a team-high nine completions on one less attempt and did not give up a single sack or interception. On the one long ball he threw, Manning overthrew a receiver who had a step on his defender. I would have liked to have seen Manning be given one or two more opportunities to throw downfield. Manning did show nice touch on the short and intermediate routes and he was the only quarterback to even come close to executing the up-tempo offense envisioned by first-year offensive coordinator Dave Christensen.

Brandon Cox was the most exciting quarterback to watch play. Cox is a true athlete that can make plays with both his legs and his arm. Cox led all quarterbacks with 23 yards rushing and one touchdown. However, unlike Travis Wilson, Brandon Cox was not overly anxious to run when pressured. Cox kept numerous plays alive by scrambling around in the backfield and ultimately finding an open receiver, reminiscent of my childhood hero, Fran Tarkenton. Cox did throw two interceptions — one a bad read and the other a tipped ball — but he also made touchdown saving tackles on both interceptions.

Transfer Jason Thompson was the only other quarterback to take any snaps (at the expense of Brandon Cox), completing 3 of 4 passes and adding a rushing touchdown. Micah Thomas has been moved to receiver. However, there was one play in which Thomas ran an end around only to get tackled deep on the opposite sideline as all of the receivers released downfield instead of staying home and blocking. I’m betting there will be a package of plays designed for Thomas to throw out of his position at receiver.

The Red Rocks made their annual pilgrimage to the national championships for the 39th consecutive year. However, they just missed out on qualifying for the Super Six by less than a tenth of a point. With the Red Rocks returning nine letter winners and six All-Americans in 2015, look for them to qualify for their 40th consecutive national championships and push hard to be the overall champion next season.

On a positive note, Utah clinched the annual Deseret First Duel against BYU with a score of 41-6 for the most lopsided victory in the 7-year old contest, which tallies results for all sports head to head with the two schools. Utah got half of its points from the wins in football and basketball. There are still a couple of baseball match-ups remaining, but the most BYU can gain is 12 more points.

In hoops, I certainly would have liked to have seen the Runnin’ Utes win at least one, if not two, games in the NIT. But the program has definitely taken a step forward by just making the NIT. Ahmad Fields, a freshman who saw significant playing time last year and showed considerable promise, has transferred. However, the overall talent level on the squad should still improve with the incoming class of recruits. Coach Larry Krystkowiak definitely has the Runnin’ Utes heading, if not necessarily running, in the right direction.

In closing, speaking of something that is moving in the wrong direction and is in desperate need of some chicken soup, the U.S. Congress is seriously ill and something needs to change. As recently as November 2013 the overall congressional approval rating was a mere nine percent. A change in Washington, D.C. is long past due. I am running for the U.S. Congress in Utah’s 1st Congressional District. Even if you don’t live in the 1st District, you probably have friends and/or family who do. Please tell them to look me up come November.

~

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

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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