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After Utah’s 55-3 win over Arizona State, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said cornerback Smith Snowden “never makes a mistake in practice.”

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at No. 5 Washington (9-0, 6-0 Pac-12)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MST
Husky Stadium
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When told that following practice on Tuesday night, Snowden smiled.

“Just coming to practice every single day and trying to get better every single day. I mean, mistakes, that was nice words of him. I’m far from perfect, but that was nice to hear for sure,” he said.

By all accounts, the four-star true freshman out of Skyridge High, who won the Deseret News’ 2022 Mr. Football award, has been starring at practice.

Snowden missed about a month earlier in the season with an ankle injury he suffered against Baylor but has been back to full strength recently. He’s been a key part of Utah’s special teams coverage in the past month.

“Since he’s been back for a few weeks now, probably three or four weeks now, he’s been a special teams staple for us and played on a lot of the special teams and had progressed so much in practice,” Whittingham said. “We said, ‘Hey, it’s time to get him on the field and see what he can add to what we’re doing.’ He certainly did add to what we’re doing. He’s a really good football player.”

Snowden adds athleticism, speed and smartness to Utah’s defense, Whittingham said.

After doing well on special teams, plus continuing to impress in practice, he was given his first defensive action of the season against Arizona State.

“I was just kind of trusting the process. Coaches told me that I’ve been improving week by week every day in practice, and so I knew my time would come,” Snowden said.

Snowden played 36 defensive snaps at nickel back in Utah’s 55-3 win over Arizona State on Saturday, according to Pro Football Focus, a significant number given that the Sun Devils only had 60 offensive snaps. It wasn’t just garbage time run, either; Snowden was in the game during the first quarter, combining with linebacker Levani Damuni to stop Arizona State running back Cameron Skattebo to register his first defensive tackle.

“That was an awesome experience. Just getting in there for the first time this season just meant a lot to me. So getting that first tackle on the first drive, it was awesome. It was a great experience, especially to do that in Rice-Eccles,” Snowden said.

Whittingham said that Tao Johnson, who has started all season at nickel back, will continue to hold that starting spot, but Snowden’s emergence at the position provides a glimpse to next year, when Johnson will likely move to either outside corner or free safety and Snowden will stick at the nickel back spot.

“Smith is a prototypical slot corner, so we feel like that is his future,” Whittingham said.

“He’s been on special teams throughout the season, but we decided ... that it was time for him to see what he could do in the game situation on defense. And he answered the bell, he played exceptionally well.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Smith Snowden

Snowden proved last Saturday that he can make an impact on defense here and now, even if he’s not the starter.

“Exactly what happened on Saturday, he played exceptionally well,” Whittingham said when asked what Snowden needs to do to continue seeing the field.

“He got like 37 reps and made the most of it. Performed exceptionally well for his first real opportunity. He’s been on special teams throughout the season, but we decided ... that it was time for him to see what he could do in the game situation on defense. And he answered the bell, he played exceptionally well.”

Two of Utah’s outside cornerbacks that see Snowden in practice every day, Miles Battle and Zemaiah Vaughn, are complimentary of their teammate.

Battle, who had an interception against Arizona State, said that Snowden looked comfortable in his first defensive game reps.

“I think he’s really grown into his own. He’s looked real comfortable out there and getting his first plays out there and making the plays that he did and making some tackles, being in the right position. I think it really shows a lot of his development and in practice he’s made a lot of plays and I just think that the coaches got a lot of confidence in him,” Battle said.

Vaughn highlighted Snowden’s learning ability.

“He’s a great learner, actually one of the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here. He likes to listen. He likes to learn. He really pays attention to fundamentals and technique, so I was happy to see him get some playing time and make plays out there. It was a great time,” Vaughn said.

Snowden has been able to learn from not just Johnson at nickel back, but Vaughn, Battle and JaTravis Broughton, among others, at the outside corner positions.

“They’ve all been so good to me. They all have kind of brought me in just as a brother,” Snowden said, crediting that help as a key part of his development this season.

This week, Snowden and the cornerbacks have a big challenge against one of the nation’s best passing offenses, led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr., when Utah plays No. 5 Washington in Seattle. The Huskies are scoring 41.7 points per game and racking up a best-in-the-country 383.1 passing yards per game.

“They’ve played well though so far this year. Very consistent. We’re in the top one ... in pass defense efficiency in the conference. So they’ve been very steady this year,” Whittingham said of the cornerback group.

In case you missed it

What’s with all the day games? Here’s why Utah is playing a lot of contests during the day and why coach Kyle Whittingham is in favor of it. Plus, a look at the TV ratings Utah has pulled this season.

From the archives

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Extra points

  • Utah signs three 5-star gymnasts for second consecutive year. How does the Red Rocks’ 2024 class rate? (Deseret News)
  • There are high expectations surrounding Utah women’s basketball this year, and deservedly so (Deseret News)
  • Can the Runnin’ Utes crash the NCAA Tournament party in their final Pac-12 season? (Deseret News)

Up next

  • Nov. 9 | 7 p.m. MST | Women’s basketball | South Carolina State | @ Salt Lake City
  • Nov. 9 | 7 p.m. MST | Volleyball | Arizona | @ Tucson, Arizona
  • Nov. 10-12 | All day | Men’s tennis | LMU Invitational | @ Los Angeles, California
  • Nov. 10-12 | All day | Women’s tennis | UNLV Invitational | @ Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Nov. 10 | 9 a.m. MST | Cross country | NCAA Mountain Regionals | @ Lubbock, Texas
  • Nov. 10 | 8 p.m. MST | Men’s basketball | UC Riverside | @ Salt Lake City
  • Nov. 11 | 1:30 p.m. MST | Football | Washington | @ Seattle, Washington
  • Nov. 11 | 6:30 p.m. MST | Volleyball | Arizona State | @ Tempe, Arizona
Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Elijhah Badger is tackled by Utah’s Johnathan Hall, left, Charlie Vincent and Smith Snowden, right, wearing black.
Arizona State Sun Devils wide receiver Elijhah Badger is tackled by Utah Utes safety Briton Allen, left, and cornerback Smith Snowden, right, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. Snowden, a true freshman, has been a mainstay on special teams but saw his first significant playing time on defense against the Sun Devils. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News