It’s less than two weeks before No. 24 Utah kicks off the season at home against Weber State.
But the coaching staff still has not named a starting quarterback.
In the Utes’ first scrimmage of fall camp last Saturday, the offense outplayed the defense and coaches and players said the quarterbacks vying for the job, senior Charlie Brewer and sophomore Cam Rising, played well.
“It’s going to be a close competition,” coach Kyle Whittingham said after that scrimmage. “It’s neck-and-neck.”
Will more clarity come Saturday when Utah stages another scrimmage?
Like last season, Whittingham could decide not to publicly announce who will be the starter until game day.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig liked what he saw out of both QBs after the first scrimmage.
“They were productive. I’m fired up about that,” he said. “They didn’t make the decision any easier with them being that efficient on Saturday.”
What does Ludwig want to see out of Brewer and Rising before a decision is made?
“More execution, more completions; a larger body of work,” Ludwig said.
Center Nick Ford said Brewer and Rising have good command of the offense.
“They’re very, very similar in terms of controlling the offense,” he said. “They both run well and throw well.”
Ludwig called both quarterbacks “highly motivated, two football junkies with high football intellect that are playing at a very high level.”
Rising suffered a major shoulder injury early in the second quarter of last year’s opener against USC and subsequently underwent surgery.
While he couldn’t participate in the spring, Rising has worked hard to get back into playing shape.
“It’s unbelievable to come back from shoulder surgery on this throwing arm, spinning the way he’s doing it with velocity and accuracy,” Ludwig said. “It speaks volumes to his relentless rehab and the doctors and training staff and everyone that put him back together.”
“A couple of days ago, I was watching film and I was like, ‘Wait, I didn’t even remember Cam just had surgery,’” Ford said. “He was slinging the ball all over the place.”
Ford said that both quarterbacks have a strong pocket presence, thanks in part to the protection provided by the offensive line.
“Our offensive line is exponentially better in pass pro, especially recognizing blitz and twists,” he said. “That’s been our main focus because we understand that we’re a physical group and that’s why a lot of people blitz and twist against us.
“Now us understanding the concepts of the defense and getting in front of them is allowing the quarterbacks more time. They’re both calm back there.”
Brewer threw for more than 9,000 yards at Baylor before transferring to Utah last January.
“They’re doing a great job of consistency. There’s really not a change when each quarterback comes in,” said tight end Brant Kuithe. “It’s just little mistakes and little tweaks but overall, they’re doing good.”
Wide receiver Theo Howard said the offense will be just fine with either Brewer or Rising.
“They’re both very capable. Both of them have experience and are veterans. They’ve both done really good things in camp,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that one is far ahead of the other. They’re neck-and-neck in this competition. I’m very confident in both of them. I can’t wait to see who ends up being the QB this fall.”
The Utes can rest assured that there’s depth at the position.
“Obviously, one is going to have to be the quarterback. Hopefully nothing ever happens but if something were to happen, you need to have a very good backup,” Howard said. “Both guys have a lot of experience and they’re both competing like crazy. I’ve been very happy with what I’ve seen in both of them.”
Ludwig said the quarterback battle has been “a very competitive situation” from top to bottom during fall camp.
“All the quarterbacks are doing an outstanding job. I know the race for the No. 1 quarterback gets a lot of attention. But we’ve got a good competition for the No. 3 quarterback between three outstanding young players — Ja’Quinden Jackson, Peter Costelli and Bryson Barnes. ... I’m very pleased with the progress of the entire position group.”
Meanwhile, the defense will be looking to rebound after an uneven performance in the first scrimmage, although some of the starters, like linebacker Devin Lloyd, were held out.
Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley would like to see the defense improve in the red zone and in two-minute work.
The Ute defense had “too many unforced errors — giving up first downs by jumping offsides,” Scalley said. “Just not understanding situations.”
Whittingham knows what he wants to see in the next scrimmage.
“We’ve got to be better Saturday than we were last Saturday. That’s the objective. That’s exactly what we told them after the scrimmage on Saturday,” he said. “We have to continue to improve. Things have to be cleaner. The execution has to be better and everything has to be sharper in the second scrimmage than it was last week. Last week we had a really good start. The bar’s been set pretty high but we have to continue to improve.”
Safety Vonte Davis is hoping for better communication among the secondary.
“I want to see everybody talking,” he said. “We were a little silent. I want the secondary to be more vocal.”
Saturday’s scrimmage could hasten a decision on the starting quarterback. Or perhaps the competition will continue next week.