Utah’s annual spring football game featured all four seasons of weather in four quarters of action Saturday afternoon.
In the sky, intermittently there was a mix of sun, clouds, rain, hail and snow. On the field, there was a mix of veterans and newcomers who capped spring practices in front of 10,994 fans who braved the elements at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
For freshman running back Jaylon Glover, a native of the Sunshine State, the various weather patterns were a somewhat new experience.
“Definitely not used to that, but I could say it is kind of like Florida because sometimes you have some sunshine and then 30 minutes later it’s raining,” said Glover, who rushed five times for 36 yards for the Red Team.
“I guess it rains and snows here so it’s a little bit different, but no complaints.”
In the end, the White Team defeated the Red Team 21-14.
Quarterback Cam Rising played the entire first series for the White Team, and it turned out to be his only series. And he showed, once again, why he is the Utes’ indisputable starter.
Wearing a yellow jersey — signifying that he was off-limits for the Red Team defense to touch — Rising led a six-play, 60-yard drive that took just two minutes and culminated with an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Taniela Pututau.
“It was fun. With the hail coming down, it was a great drive,” Rising said. “I was glad we were able to get in the end zone.”
On that possession, wide receiver Devaughn Vele caught passes for 21 yards and 14 yards, respectively, and redshirt freshman Makai Cope pulled down a 17-yard, highlight-worthy one-handed catch near the sideline.
Ok @makaicope with the one-handed catch, we see you. 👀— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) April 23, 2022
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Going into the spring game, coach Kyle Whittingham said, the plan was for Rising to take snaps for just one drive.
Whittingham liked what he saw during Rising’s lone on-field appearance.
“Very smooth. He was sharp. You saw Vele catch a couple of balls from him. Devaughn and him have really started to develop a chemistry together,” Whittingham said.
“What Cam did was exactly what he had hoped and expected. He came in and engineered a touchdown drive and made it look easy. That was his day’s work.”
For the rest of the scrimmage, Rising stood on the sidelines helping offensive line coach Jim Harding call plays.
“It was a good time,” Rising said. “Coach Harding was calling the majority. It was a good game plan and I’m happy we won.”
Certainly, Whittingham is happy to have an established starter at QB going into the 2022 season.
“We know Cam’s our guy. We’ve just got to work those guys behind him and see what happens,” Whittingham said.
“We have a First Team all-conference quarterback coming back to lead us. That’s a huge positive for us.”
But much of the attention Saturday was focused on Rising’s backups. Throughout spring ball, Ja’Quinden Jackson and Bryson Barnes have been battling for the QB2 job.
Jackson completed 11 of 17 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Red Team and also rushed eight times for 36 yards.
Jackson threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Money Parks with 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter, then connected with Parks for a 14-yard TD pass in the third quarter.
“J.J.’s really good. He definitely controls the huddle,” Glover said. “He’s progressed in the spring.
“He’s going to be really good, and I’m just glad to be here and see him go through that.”
For the White Team, Barnes completed 9 of 18 passes for 157 yards and a pair of TDs. He ran 10 times for 47 yards.
In the third quarter, Barnes sprinted for an apparent 55-yard touchdown, but the score was nullified by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on him just before he reached the end zone.
He was credited with just 30 yards.
“Should have let it go in the spring game,” safety Cole Bishop, who was playing for the White Team, said of that penalty.
But moments later, Barnes completed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Cope to propel the White Team to a 14-7 lead.
As time expired at the end of the third quarter, Barnes completed a pass over the middle to tight end Munir McClain, who raced 56 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
“They did a great job. They made sure the team was going in the right direction,” Rising said of Jackson and Barnes.
“There are always some things that you have to clean up, but they’re on their way.”
Added Whittingham: “It was great to see Ja’Quinden Jackson and Bryson Barnes get extensive work. They made the most of it.”
But the coach explained that it’s too early to make a decision on Rising’s backup. The coaching staff has described the battle between Jackson and Barnes as “neck-and-neck” during the spring.
“We’ll have to dissect it. We will have a better idea. I couldn’t tell you by observing it firsthand out there. I thought they both did some really good things,” Whittingham said.
“Ja’Quinden Jackson has really made a ton of progress since he got here. He’s really starting to become a guy that looks like a quality quarterback. Bryson Barnes makes some big plays too. Hopefully, we’ll have a pecking order going into fall camp. If it’s a dead heat still, then it’s a dead heat. That’s not as critical as trying to figure out your No. 1 guy. It’s critical but not as critical as that.”
Meanwhile, Whittingham said there was “good competition” in the spring game.
“It was a great way to end spring football. We really had an excellent spring. We were able to stay healthy for the most part,” he said.
“We got a few guys banged up out there today, but we don’t believe it’s real serious. A lot of guys making plays today. Young players played well.”
Whittingham singled out a handful of players that stood out Saturday, including Glover, freshman linebackers Lander Barton and Justin Medlock, and defensive ends Jonah Elliss and Connor O’Toole.
“There were some really good things out there,” he said. “We have a lot of promising young players.”
Those promising young players, like Barton, enjoyed playing at Rice-Eccles Stadium in front of fans Saturday.
“Today was a lot of fun. We’ve been waiting for this all spring,” Barton said. “I was excited to get out there and end it off right. It was a good day.”
Added Glover: “It felt good, man. I am happy to play with the guys and go against the guys that we have been going against all spring.
“I am glad we got to put it all together to show the fans that we came to play. I had fun and it was a great time.”
All ticket sales Saturday are going to the Ty Jordan Memorial Scholarship and the Aaron Lowe Memorial Scholarship.
The school raised a net total of $89,280.