When Utah holds its annual spring game — recently rebranded as the Forever 22 Game — all eyes will be on the backup quarterbacks.
And for good reason.
With starter Cam Rising, who helped lead the Utes to back-to-back Pac-12 championships, unable to practice as he recovers from knee surgery, the main storyline of the spring has been the backup QB battle and the race for No. 2.
Saturday (noon, Pac-12 Networks), the quarterbacks will get a chance to show what they can do in front of a crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Johnson missed some time during spring due to an injury but he has returned to action.
Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig has been pleased with Rose’s progress this spring.
“He’s gotten better. He’s still a work in progress. You’re talking about a freshman quarterback. The learning curve is very steep. But he has shown progress from practice one,” he said. “We’ve got to finish out spring ball strong. We didn’t try to limit the package very much for him. There are some things that we held. But he’s got exposure to the whole offense. And it’s a big load. But I think he’s growing and adjusting and learning every day. We’re looking to finish strong but he’s got to have a great summer and I anticipate that he will.”
What is Ludwig looking for from his quarterbacks in the spring game?
“Decision-making and competitive accuracy are the big things that’s still a work in progress,” he said. “The group has gotten better through the course of spring but we want to finish out on a really high note.”
What has sophomore linebacker Lander Barton seen from the QBs as he’s defended them during the spring?
“They’re doing a great job. BRose is doing an awesome job slinging the ball around. Bryson too,” he said. “It’s been fun to watch those guys play and compete. They’ve improved, 100%. You can tell by their reads, how they’re looking people off. They’re getting better every day.”
Ludwig said he’s “confident” about the abilities of the backup quarterbacks.
“It’s a good room. Bryson Barnes, we know what he’s about. Brandon Rose and Nate Johnson, who’s been limited; he missed some practices, which is going to set him behind a little bit. But he was back with us (Tuesday) and had a good day. Luke Bottari and Mack Howard are filling out the room. It’s a good room and there’s a lot of growth and development with the whole group.”
Meanwhile, offensive line coach Jim Harding is happy with his depth on the O-line.
“We’ve had some guys miss some time due to injury,” he said. “But overall, I do think there are nine or 10 kids that have an opportunity to help us this fall. That’s a luxury that you probably don’t have at every program across the country. We’ve had some guys out and we’ve had guys step up that have gotten some valuable reps and earn at least my trust. So I think it’s good.”
Another position to keep an eye on Saturday is wide receiver. Utah has returning starter Devaughn Vele, and Money Parks has been a solid playmaker. Meanwhile, freshman Mikey Matthews has been impressive this spring.
Just as Whittingham has said, Ludwig said his biggest concern is the depth at wide receiver.
“I feel really good about where we are with Devaughn Vele, Money Parks and Mike Matthews has come in and done a really good job,” he said. “Tiquan Gilmore, we need more production and a couple of the other guys need more production. That would be the one gray area as we wrap up spring ball.”