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Freshman QB Nate Johnson shows off his ‘blazing speed,’ scores two touchdowns in Utah’s win over Arizona

SHARE Freshman QB Nate Johnson shows off his ‘blazing speed,’ scores two touchdowns in Utah’s win over Arizona
Utah Utes running back Nate Johnson (wearing red) takes the ball into the end zone

Utah Utes running back Nate Johnson (13) takes the ball into the end zone for a touchdown as Utah and Arizona play at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A new offensive weapon emerged Saturday night for No. 14 Utah in its 45-20 victory over Arizona. 

True freshman quarterback Nate Johnson, a four-star recruit, made the most of his first career carries for the Utes out of the wildcat package — an eight-yard touchdown around the edge in the first quarter and a nine-yard touchdown run around the edge in the second quarter.

“We were just looking for a way to provide some more spark, just creative ways to provide a spark. (Johnson) sure did that. You saw how fast he is. He is the fastest kid on the team as far as on the track. He’s got blazing speed and you saw that manifest tonight.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

He finished with three carries for 23 yards and a pair of TDs.

“It was really fun,” Johnson said. “First carry, touchdown. Second carry, touchdown. Just being out there with the guys was really exciting.”

Johnson learned on Monday that he would be utilized in a special package, capitalizing on his speed and quickness. All week, he prepared for his opportunities. And when those moments came, he made the most of them. 

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “Most true freshmen quarterbacks don’t really play … It gave me a really big confidence-booster.”

Coach Kyle Whittingham said the reason why Johnson was inserted in the game plan this week was simply out of necessity. He credited offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig for designing the package for Johnson. 

“We were low on running backs as far as healthy running backs. We were down (tight end) Dalton (Kincaid),” he said. “We were just looking for a way to provide some more spark, just creative ways to provide a spark. (Johnson) sure did that. You saw how fast he is. He is the fastest kid on the team as far as on the track. He’s got blazing speed and you saw that manifest tonight.”

Johnson has been quarterbacking the scout team for the Utes this season. That experience was helpful Saturday. 

“It’s helped a lot. We have one of the best defenses in the country so the speed of the game in practice and the speed in a game is a lot different,” Johnson said. “But getting the scout team reps really helped me a lot. Tonight was a fun night with the guys.”

So will Johnson play more in special packages as the season winds down? 

“We’ll see what happens going forward,” Whittingham said. “It was all coach Lud’s brainchild and implementation. If it looks like it’s going to be something that we can hang onto and continue to get mileage out of, then we’ll do that.”