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Utes give a glimpse of offense under Andy Ludwig in first spring scrimmage

Quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) throws a pass during the University of Utah scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 30, 2019.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) throws a pass during the University of Utah scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 30, 2019.
Silas Walker, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah unveiled its new offense in Saturday’s scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

OK, no curtains were opened or anything like that — perhaps just a glimpse of the scheme new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has in mind for the Utes.

“Overall I thought that was a fairly clean scrimmage, a clean practice,” said Ludwig, who noted that the guys are still digesting a lot of new things. “I’m pleased with where we are, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. I promise you that.”

Unofficially (no stats were kept), senior Tyler Huntley led the quarterbacks by completing 10 of 12 passes for just under 100 yards in the situational scrimmage. One of his first throws, however, was picked off by linebacker Manny Bowen. The graduate transfer from Penn State had the only takeaway in the gathering.

“I know we all want the interception back,” Ludwig said. “There will be a lot of growth from that."

Otherwise, Ludwig noted that Huntley did a good job of moving the ball and managing the team. Ludwig also liked the job he did handling shifts and motions.

Ludwig added that there’s growth from Huntley every day. His pre-snap decisions were also praised. There will be more on his plate in the future, according to Ludwig.

“It went pretty good for the first scrimmage,” Huntley said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to clean up but definitely for a new offense it’s going very good.”

Huntley explained that in the new scheme he can change the play up to three different ways depending on what the defense gives him.

“It’s a lot of thinking,” Huntley said. “But it’s going to help in the long run.”

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said about 60 percent of the offense is installed at this point.

“I thought the quarterbacks made good decisions for the most part,” he said. “Jason Shelley seemed to be composed when he was in there.”

Shelley and Drew Lisk both completed four passes. Whittingham also noted that sophomore running back TJ Green had some good runs. Sophomore Solomon Enis and senior Demari Simpkins, he continued, also did good things.

Whittingham said the offense is in a good spot.

“We’re still in the infancy of what we’re doing,” he added. "So there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Huntley agreed.

“It felt good to be out there today,” he explained. “The defense did good, the offense did good. We’ve just got to keep working.”

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said that things are never as good as it seems and never as bad as it seems. As for the scrimmage, Scalley summarized that “for the most part it was a good day."

“The biggest thing? Only one takeaway. So we’ve got to do a better job of takeaways, getting the ball back to the offense,” he said. “I was pretty happy within the field of play, how they responded to when the offense made a play on them.”

Scalley mentioned that the defensive line set the tone. Whittingham was especially pleased with the play of junior tackle Viane Moala, a transfer from Hawaii.

Bowen, though, made an immediate impact with his early pick. Scalley said Utah’s zone drops had not been great until that point in camp. Whittingham wasn’t surprised by Bowen’s performance.

“He’s been making plays since he got here. So that’s nothing new,” Whittingham said. “He’s active. He’s tough. He’s instinctive and he is exactly what we hoped he would be so far.”

The defense, as a whole, received kudos from Whittingham.

“I think we had plenty of energy and juice and they got after it pretty good,” he said.

Utah has six spring practices remaining. Whittingham explained that the M.O. will continue to be no live work for the starters. Getting through camp healthy is an obvious priority.

“The key now is to come out next Saturday and be better than we were today,” Whittingham said. “That’s only going to happen if we have a good Tuesday and a good Thursday, and learn from the film.

"I like where we are, trying to stay healthy, still work to do."

Storylines to watch include:

  • Shuffling the deck. Whittingham noted the need for depth on the offensive line, where Utah must replace three graduated starters. He acknowledged that will be an ongoing process until fall camp when more players are added to the mix.
  • Quarterback Cameron Rising. The transfer from Texas didn’t see any action with the twos. The Utes are still waiting to hear from the NCAA about a waiver concerning his eligibility for the upcoming season. As such, Whittingham said the Utes can’t afford to dilute reps from the other quarterbacks. He estimated that the percentage chance of Rising getting approved to play this season is 60/40 against.
  • The kickers. There’s a battle brewing between sophomore Chayden Johnston and freshman Jadon Redding. Whittingham said that Johnston, who was the frontrunner, has struggled and is in a bit of a funk. “The bottom line is you’ve got to put it through the uprights and right now he’s not as our other kid‚ Jason Redding,” Whittingham said. “It’s by no means solved. It will continue on.”