SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s annual red and white game can’t be judged like most competitions.
The public finale of spring football on the hill, the game is part tradition, part opportunity for players, both to learn and to be tested, part celebration for fans. So while the red team defeated the white team 20-10, the takeaways were not as obvious to fans as they were to the coaches, who almost unanimously agreed the spring was a success because of what they learned and how players developed.
“You just look for fundamentals and techniques to improve across the board,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham on how he measures success in the annual spring showdown. “That’s the No. 1 thing. We’re not trying to out-scheme each other. That’s not part of spring ball.” Instead, the Utes gave opportunities to many of its younger or unproven players, while 22 others, including many projected starters, watched from the sideline.
The red team pretty soundly defeated the white team behind three touchdowns — two rushing scores from sophomore Devonta’e Henry Cole and one 30-yard passing touchdown when Alabama transfer quarterback Cooper Bateman connected with Jameson Field.
“It was my fifth and final,” Bateman said of Saturday’s spring game, which attracted thousands of fans. “That’s kind of fun and kind of sad at the same time. It was fun out here. This is such an awesome team. Everyone just has fun out here, and I really enjoyed it.”
The white team had just one score in the first half — a 42-yard field goal from junior college transfer kicker Cristian Antezana. Freshman walk-on Drew Lisk scored the white team’s only touchdown with just over four minutes to play when he connected with Troy McCormick on a 43-yard pass.
Henry-Cole had the best showing of all the running backs with 11 carries for 50 yards and two touchdowns. Justin Tatola earned 31 yards on seven carries, while sophomore Zack Moss gained just 17 yards on five carries before leaving the stadium early in the third quarter with his arm in a sling.
Whittingham said he thought Moss had a “crack” or fractured arm, but expected him to return for summer conditioning in six weeks. His injury highlights the dilemma coaches face in trying to challenge and test their players while attempting to avoid the injuries that are part of the game.
“That’s always the worry is that somebody gets hurt, but you’ve got to practice,” said first-year offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. “You’ve got to get better.”
Taylor seemed the most reserved of the coaches as fans poured onto the turf at Rice-Eccles to collect autographs or snap pictures with players.
“It was sporadic,” he said when asked to evaluate the play of Utah’s four quarterbacks. “They made some plays, but you know, we did some good things. We’ll take a look at it on tape.”
When asked if there were standouts, he said, “Cooper threw a nice touchdown pass. Drew Lisk did a nice job too. Obviously, Devonta’e Henry-Cole did nice things. There were a number of guys who did nice things.” Both sophomore Tyler Huntley and last year’s starter Troy Williams had solid numbers, but they both also had fumbles, as did Henry-Cole and Moss.
“Coach Taylor’s offense is very quarterback-based,” Williams said. “(I’m) just going to try to get out there and just play ball.”
Huntley finished 8 of 12 with one interception, while Williams went 9 of 15.
“It was fun to come out and just have fun,” Huntley said. “Just another day in the office.”
Lisk, a walk-on from Jordan High, earned the most yards, going 7 for 15 with 118 yards, but he also had an interception.
“I thought it was a good showing,” Whittingham said. “I was not real happy with ball security. The ball was on the ground too often, and we had a couple … interceptions, so that was a negative, but again, that’s good for the defense. Spring is so give-and-take because you’re going against each other. But overall, I’d say it was a very good and very productive spring.”
Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said there is a lot for coaches to learn, even if it doesn’t show up on a stat sheet.
“You can find out which guys, you know, when the lights are on and a crowd is there, which guys do their own stuff versus which guys will stick with the technique and play with proper fundamentals,” Scalley said. “Guys that don’t try to do their own thing. You can see — are we tackling the way we need to tackle? And then, some guys come out of their shells and they end up making plays. And so it’s fun to see that.”
He said he was impressed by the growth of so many of the young players that “there were too many to name.”
When pressed, he singled out cornerbacks Julian Blackmon, who, along with Pita Tonga, led the red team in tackling with five tackles, and Casey Hughes and Boobie Hobbs, as well as Tonga, Hauati Pututau, Leki Fotu and Caleb Repp.
“It was a really good spring,” he said. "Let's just put it that way."
Whittingham acknowledged this spring was challenging, but said both players and coaches had risen to those challenges.
“I think ultimately we’re going to be a pretty good football team,” he said. “How soon that is, we’ll find out.”