Saturday marks senior night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

But for Utah, this season has been punctuated by strong performances by less-experienced underclassmen, including freshmen like running backs Jaylon Glover and Ja’Quinden Jackson; backup quarterbacks Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson; tight end Thomas Yassmin; defensive backs Sione Vaki, Clayton Isbell and Zemaiah Vaughn; and defensive end Jonah Elliss. 

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“I know we’ve had some guys step up,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “There are guys that have stepped up and taken advantage of their playing time.”

Whittingham has high praise for those players, including Vaughn.

“That was absolutely his best game as a Ute. He was making play after play. He’s a very talented kid. He’s got great speed,” Whittingham said of Vaughn after the 45-20 win over Arizona. “He’s a little on the lean side. We keep trying to put weight on him. He’s up to about 185 so that’s a good thing. For a former quarterback who’s only been playing corner for a couple of years now, he’s doing a nice job.”

Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley points to the contributions of Isbell and Vaki.

“Clayton has become a more physical football player. He’s gained confidence in his knowledge of the defense, which has allowed him to make more plays. It’s what he struggled with a little bit early on. Man, has he been a big addition,” he said. “Sione Vaki, you look at what he did against Washington State. Sometimes you don’t know what they’re going to do. He exceeded expectations and we’re excited for his future.”

Whittingham is pleased with Jackson’s progress. 

“Ja’Quinden just continues to make strides every week. He’s more comfortable every week in his role,” he said. “Ball-carrying came naturally to him because he’s had a lot of experience as a running back growing up and he was a quarterback in the shotgun. He’s really getting a good feel and a lot of confidence in pass (protection) and route-running.”

Utes on the air

Stanford (3-6, 1-6)

at No. 13 Utah (7-2, 5-1) 

Saturday, 8 p.m. MST

Rice-Eccles Stadium


Radio: ESPN 700