PROVO — More than 18,000 fans showed up at LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday afternoon for the first Blue & White Spring Game under first-year coach Kalani Sitake and his staff.
Many of those in attendance were hoping to see quarterback Taysom Hill back on the field during 7-on-7 drills.
But Hill did not participate because he needed to attend to a family emergency. It was later reported that Hill’s brother, Dexter, died suddenly at his home in Pocatello, Idaho, Friday at the age of 31. Prior to the scrimmage, the Cougars knelt at midfield to pray for their senior leader.
"Obviously, family is always the most important thing," Sitake said. "Our prayers are with him. We’re giving time to be with his family.”
“You definitely miss his presence. He’s that type of guy that when he’s around, he brightens everything up,” offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said of Hill. “It was disappointment he couldn’t be here but we’re all thinking of him and hope things get cleared up quickly for him. We’re here to support him.”
In addition to Hill’s absence, several key players were held out as a precaution.
Meanwhile, quarterbacks Tanner Mangum and Beau Hoge led the White Team to a 30-12 victory over the Blue Team.
Earlier in the week, Sitake said he wouldn’t reveal much of the playbook Saturday in order to maintain a competitive advantage going into the season-opener Sept. 3 against Arizona.
“We were really generic on defense on purpose,” Sitake said. “We didn’t want to give a lot away. We’ll save that until game time. We have a lot more on defense than what we showed today.”
Sitake’s assessment of his team’s performance?
“We did some good things. We held out a bunch of guys. I feel like it would have been a lot cleaner had they played,” he said. “I wanted to see what these younger guys could do. Some guys did well and some guys didn’t. We had some miscommunication on some plays. There are things we’ve got to fix. Luckily we have some practices next week. It’s a work in progress. We have a game in September. We’ll need all that time to get ready for it.”
Detmer said the offense has plenty to work on.
“It was sloppy in some areas. We were really basic. We didn’t have a lot in the plan, which was by design. It was good to see guys moving around and some of the guys who hadn’t gotten a lot of reps got a lot today. There will be plenty to clean up on Monday.”
Given the number of players who were held out and limitations on the type of plays they ran, Mangum was pleased with what the offense was able to do.
“I thought it went well. We kept it limited,” said Mangum, who completed 5 of 8 passes for 82 yards. “We didn’t play a lot of the starters and we kind of kept the offense and the defense pretty simple. For what we had in, I thought we did a good job. Obviously, there are some things we’ve got to work on and some mistakes here and there that we can clean up. But overall, it was fun to be here at the stadium and be in front of the crowd again and get more reps. That’s the biggest thing that we need in general is more repetitions. The more practice we get, the better we’ll be. We took some good steps forward today.”
Early in the scrimmage, Mangum threw an impressive 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Moroni Laulu-Pututau, who finished with four receptions for 73 yards.
“Moroni made a great catch there,” Mangum said. “In (7-on-7), we had a couple of touchdowns as well. Regardless of what drill you’re doing, you always want to score touchdowns. It’s always fun to score at LaVell Edwards Stadium.”
Hoge completed 5 of 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown and rushed seven times for 37 yards. Running back Squally Canada ran five times for 45 yards and Trey Dye gained 41 yards on 10 carries.
Linebacker Adam Pulsipher had a game-high four tackles and defensive lineman Tevita Mo’unga recorded three tackles.
Because of the dearth of healthy offensive linemen, those who could participate wore black jerseys and played for both the Blue and White teams.
“The O-line got a little tired,” Sitake said. “We were trying to get 60 plays and we ended up with 82. We kind of gassed out the O-linemen a little bit but that’s okay. They’re big boys. They’ll be fine.”
The Cougars were appreciative of the big crowd that came out to watch the spring game.
“You can feel the excitement with the new coaches and new system,” Mangum said. “Cougar fans are awesome. It’s fun to see them out here. I’m glad we could have a sunny day for the fans. It was fun.”
“We have great fans. I expected the turnout we had. It was fun for our players,” Sitake said. “We’re the type of program that we want our fans to feel ownership on this team. I think they feel that. We want to put on a better performance. It’s never good enough, I guess. I know Ty wanted a lot more points on the scoreboard but overall, it was a good showing. I loved that the fans were here.”