Here’s a plot twist that few probably saw coming out of the first scrimmage of Utah’s fall camp: The offense won the day.
It is a well-known and well-worn adage that the defense is ahead of the offense at this point of camp. Especially with the Utes. But that wasn’t the case Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
While the media wasn’t allowed to observe the scrimmage, the consensus was that the offense had its way with the defense, though the defense was sitting some of its top players, like linebacker Devin Lloyd and defensive end Mika Tafua.
‘A lot of good things out of the offense today. The offense had the better day,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “Some of the premier guys on ‘D’ were not out there but still, the offense had great juice, a lot of passion and they made plays. They were really good in the throw game. That was probably the highlight of the day — the production we had in the throw game.”
“Both quarterbacks looked good, the first two guys,” Whittingham said. “It’s going to be a close competition. It’s neck-and-neck.”
Center Nick Ford agreed with Whittingham’s assessment of the scrimmage, that the offense outplayed the defense.
“There’s no doubt in that,” Ford said. “From running the ball and passing the ball and the offensive line’s pass pro, to generating movement and the running backs being physical and being elegant in the open field and our receivers just running out there and our quarterbacks slinging it, it was an amazing day.”
Lloyd was no less enthusiastic.
“They had a pretty good day. They got some explosive plays and overall did a lot of good things,” he said. “(Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig) did a great job calling plays, putting guys in the right positions to succeed. Then they executed very well. Overall, they did an amazing job.”
Lloyd acknowledged that several key starters were held out, but he was still disappointed in the defense’s overall performance.
“There were a lot of ones out but even in that scenario there shouldn’t be a huge drop off between the starters and the backups,” he said. “The offense came out and they were ready to go. They came out firing and they executed at a very high level.”
Junior wide receiver Britain Covey — who was also held out Saturday — has experienced plenty of scrimmages over the years, but this one was different.
“I haven’t been a part of many scrimmages where I feel like the offense gets the better side of the defense,” he said. “Part of the reason is because the defense has been so great in the past with some of the guys. But I really feel like the fact that we have so many veterans on offense helped us a lot today to come into the first live-situation work and be clean, be efficient and be able to run different sets.”
Covey attributed the offense’s success to its experience.
“A lot of veteran leadership, at least from the offensive side of things,” he said. “That veteran leadership was shown by both Cam and Charlie and the rest of the guys.”
Regarding the quarterback competition, Whittingham said there’s no timeline for naming a starter.
“Sooner rather than later is still obviously optimal. But it’s so close right now I can tell you that no decision will be made prior to next week’s scrimmage. Then hopefully shortly thereafter. We’re taking as much time as we need.”
What did Whittingham like about the play of the quarterbacks?
“They’re both throwing the ball very accurately and taking care of it,” he said. “They’re making good decisions, getting the tempo of the offense where it needs to be. They’re leading. They’re both leaders. Both are making very few mistakes.”
Covey also evaluated the quarterback competition.
“Gosh, I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision because they’re both playing so well. I’ve said this many times before but it’s just wonderful knowing that it’s not a competition where we’re searching for a quarterback,” Covey said. “That you’re desperate to find one. It’s one where you’ve got two great guys. They’re both performing at a high level. We’re going to have one of the best backup quarterbacks in the country. I don’t know who the guy is going to be yet but I know that we’ll have two great options.”
Brewer and Rising are a lot alike in their abilities, Covey added.
“They’re pretty similar and they’re both pretty mobile, which is a positive thing,” he said. “They both have a great pocket feel. Charlie’s is because he has an unbelievable amount of experience. They’re not like a Tyler Huntley in terms of speed but in terms of understanding, ‘OK, it’s third-and-eight and I can pick up a first down with my legs.’ There were a couple of times they did that in this scrimmage. That’s really appealing. They’re very similar types of players.”
Besides the quarterbacks, Whittingham said Oklahoma transfer wide receiver Theo Howard and Cincinnati transfer running back Tavion Thomas stood out in Saturday’s scrimmage, as well as all of the tight ends and wide receivers Solomon Enis, Devaughn Vele and Jaylen Dixon.
“Tavion Thomas was very good in the run game. He’s a load,” Whittingham said. “So we have some good things going for us. The offensive line protected well. That was really the catalyst to the throw game today — the protection up front.”
After the scrimmage, at least one defensive player vowed to outplay the offense next time.
“(Defensive tackle) Viane Moala was already joking around with us that they’re going to kill us next week,” Covey said. “I haven’t been around many scrimmages, especially first ones, where the offense gets the better of the defense. So I don’t know that I was expecting that today, but just to be out there and see that we weren’t wide-eyed when it came to real tempo. Granted, we held quite a few guys out to be safe and to give the younger guys opportunities. So that would have changed things had all of the starters been in. But when you have the first two groups executing the first time you go real game speed is really impressive. I’m pumped.”