Quarterback shine in Red-White Spring Game

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - Behind quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Brandon Cox, who both threw for over 100 yards, the Red team took down the White 28-27 in Utah football’s annual Spring Game, delighting the crowd of 12,056 on a sunny, 65-degree Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Running back Devonte Booker, a junior transfer from American River College, led the White squad by running for a game-high 103 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. The White also had the top receiver in the game as rising sophomore Dominique Hatfield, who had four grabs for 93 yards and a touchdown.

The Red offense was led by running back Bubba Poole, who carried the ball six times for 19 yards and had two catches for 82 yards. Troy McCormick had a team-high eight carries for 34 yards and a touchdown.

Wilson, a starter in 16 games his first two seasons, connected on 7-of-12 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown while playing in the first five series. Cleared for only non-contact drills this spring following a head injury late last season, Wilson was the only quarterback who was not “live” in the scrimmage.

Cox completed 5-of-9 passes for 126 yards and ran for a touchdown; however, he also threw both interceptions in the game.

“We had a lot of guys making plays,” said Ute head coach Kyle Whittingham. A few too many times we had balls on the ground, and we’ve got to clean that up. But it was good to see Dominique Hatfield and some other guys make some plays.

“Each of the quarterbacks did some good things.” Whittingham continued. “I thought it was a real positive to have all of them other than Travis “live” because it gave us a chance to see them extend plays and make plays when things broke down. I thought the defense did a good job of flying around. There wasn’t a lot they did from a schematic standpoint, but I thought they played hard.”

The offenses, under first-year coordinator Dave Christensen, rolled up 735 combined yards on 117 plays in a back-and-forth affair. Those numbers were a bit skewed by the fact that 80 percent of the projected starters on defense and 30 percent of the projected starters on offense were held out of the scrimmage. However, Whittingham was pleased with the pace of both offenses, which has been an emphasis in spring ball.

“The last week or so the pace has been closer to where we envisioned it, but it’s still a little off of where we want it to be,” Whittingham pointed out. “We’ll get back after it and try to get that pace even quicker early in fall camp, but we’re starting to get a feel now of where it needs to be.”

The White team opened up the scoring on its first possession as Adam Schulz hit Hatfield down the middle for 46-yard touchdown. Schulz connected on 9-of-13 throws for 110 yards.

“Hatfield and some of the running backs were able to get some of those chunk-yardage plays that you need to have to be successful,” Whittingham said. “You can’t just keep grinding it out for 12 to 14 plays. That was good to see.”

The Red offense was slow to start with just 46 yards on its first three drives, but got on the scoreboard following a Schulz fumble that was recovered by Daniel Nielson at its own 48 yard line. Eight plays, later McCormick had a three-yard run up the middle to tie the game at 7-7 with 8:00 left in the second quarter.

The White team jumped back in front 14-7, as Dre’Vian Young had a 16-yard run to the Red 19 that set up a 10-yard run by Booker off right tackle.

“We’ve been high on Devonte Booker ever since he got here,” Whittingham said. “He didn’t get here more than a week or two before the start of spring ball, so he was fighting his lack of conditioning all spring. But as soon as he gets himself in great shape, I think he’ll be a very good running back in this conference. All of the running backs ran hard today. A strong running game is where everything begins, even if you are a spread team.”

Wilson led the Red team on the first of its back-to-back scores by swinging a pass out on the right flat to Brian Allen, who went 56 yards for a touchdown.

With the game tied 14-all, Cox then scrambled and dumped off a pass to Poole down left side. Poole broke a tackle at midfield and went 71 yards before he was brought down inside the White 10 yard line. Cox capped off the drive with a five-yard run on a zone read to put the Red in front 21-14 with 3:49 to play in the second quarter.

Conner Manning then came in at quarterback for the White team and ripped a pass down the middle to tight end Westlee Tonga for a 10-yard score. That tied the game 21-21 with 1:13 remaining before halftime. Manning was 9-for-12 passing for 86 yards.

On the opening drive of the third quarter, kicker Andy Phillips missed the only field goal attempt of the game from 54 yards away. He had made a 59-yarder in the second scrimmage of the spring last week.

Jason Thompson, a transfer quarterback from Wyoming who will have to sit out this season, got the first score of the second half on a one-yard keeper to give the Red squad a 28-21 lead with 1:24 to play in the third quarter.

Late in the fourth quarter, The White sqaud drove down to the Red one-yard line, where Booker scored over the right side on fourth-and-goal to bring his team within one. Going for the win on the two-point conversion, Young was stopped after catching a pass the right flat, preserving the Red team’s 28-27 victory.

The Utes avoided any major injuries in the scrimmage after losing linebackers Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale earlier in the spring.

“We hope to get Gionni back by the first game and Jacoby back by the first Pac-12 game if everything with his rehabilitation goes well,” Whittingham said. “But, if there was a silver lining to those injuries, it forced us to move Marcus Saunders-Williams over from running back to linebacker, and that appears to be going very well.”

Sharrieff Shah Jr. led the White team with 11 tackles. Sal Velasquez and Filipo Mokofisi both had interception returns of 50-plus yards.

Alex Whittingham had 12 tackles and Tanner Larsen chipped in 10 to pace the Red squad. Pita Taumoepenu had two tackles for loss for 18 yards.

Utah opens its 2014 season on Thursday, Aug. 28 against Idaho State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

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