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How Utes filled key spots with ‘an incredible’ bevy of Power Five players via transfer portal

Charlie Brewer, T.J. Pledger and Chris Curry are among the transfers who are expected to be impact players for the Utes this season

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Utah Utes running back Chris Curry runs during the spring game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021.

Utah Utes running back Chris Curry finds daylight during the spring game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021. The former LSU Tiger is one of a handful of players from Power Five schools who the Utes landed via the transfer portal.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

While Utah returns almost everyone from last year’s team, coach Kyle Whittingham and his coaching staff have filled voids by adding key players from Power Five programs via the transfer portal.

At the top of the list of newcomers is quarterback Charlie Brewer, a former star at Baylor. The Utes also bolstered their depth at the running back position with Oklahoma transfer T.J. Pledger and Louisiana State transfer Chris Curry. Another quarterback, Ja’Quinden Jackson, landed at Utah after spending last season with the Texas Longhorns. 

“We feel like we’ve hit home runs,” Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said last spring about the influx of Power Five transfers. 

After spring ended, Utah brought in linebacker Josh Calvert and safety Brandon McKinney (Washington) and wide receiver Theo Howard (Oklahoma).

Utah’s success with the transfer portal has not gone unnoticed.

“If you were a college football player in the transfer portal this spring, you likely made your way to Utah,” wrote Pro Football Focus. “An incredible seven Division I players transferred to the Utes, all from Power Five conferences. They have landed offensive weapons such as Theo Howard, T.J. Pledger, and Chris Curry.

“Furthermore, former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer is the addition that could truly ignite this Utes program. If Brewer can return to the form that made Baylor a Big 12 contender in 2019, then Utah could be a surprise contender in the Pac-12. Defensively, they added Josh Calvert to a linebacker unit that already hosts one of the best in the nation in Devin Lloyd.”

Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer throws during the Red and White Game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021.

Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) throws during the spring game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Several of these Power Five transfers boast experience in big-time college football.

Brewer helped lead Baylor to the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2019 season. During his career with the Bears, he passed for 9,700 yards and rushed for 1,039 more. He threw for 65 touchdowns and ran for 22 TDs.

During his Utah debut, Brewer, a senior, turned in a perfect day at the spring game, giving the Utes’ offense a lot of hope for the future. Brewer completed 15 of 15 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and he finished with a quarterback rating of 228.6 in one half of play.

Both Pledger and Curry were mostly backups with their previous teams, but they both know what it’s like to compete on a big stage

Curry, a 5-foot-11, 216-pound sophomore, played in 27 games at LSU, and, ironically, his biggest moment came against Pledger’s Oklahoma team in the Tigers’ 63-28 Peach Bowl national semifinal victory. Curry later helped LSU win a national championship in 2019. 

Running backs coach Kiel McDonald was impressed with what he saw from Curry against the Sooners.

“Chris is a big, physical kid that runs downhill. We paid a lot of attention to that game that he had against Oklahoma,” he said. “You saw that he got stronger and stronger as the game went on. I think that fits who we are and who we’ve been — big, tough, physical guys that can have some run after contact.”

Last fall, Pledger, a 5-9, 193-pound junior, enjoyed a career day with 22 carries and 131 yards and two touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 53-45 victory over rival Texas in four overtimes in the Red River Showdown.

“They’ve been in programs that have been very successful. They’re good players. That’s something we desperately needed to add to the room — more talent,” Whittingham said. “The transition they’ve made has been really good. They know the deal in big-time college football. They’ve been there, done that. This is nothing new to them and so far they fit right in.”

McDonald said both players are a “great fit” at Utah.

“We have a great tradition here at the running back position. This is a run-first team. There’s no secret about that. We run to win and that’s kind of our philosophy,” McDonald said. “They were looking for a place where they could come in and compete right now.

“I’m all about competition. The best player will play. The best player will start. And they wanted that opportunity. They were looking for a school that was able to grant them that opportunity. It worked out for both the players and for us.”