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Utah Football: Travis Wilson 'exceptionally sharp' in scrimmage

Published April 5, 2014 2:36 pm

Utah football • The junior quarterback's performance draws praise from Whittingham.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Travis Wilson and the Utah offense were literally unstoppable.

That's because if they failed to achieve a first down in four tries, officials re-spotted the ball and gave them another shot. But even if the deck hadn't been stacked in their favor, the guys in red would have treated fans to glimpses of promise in Utah's first spring scrimmage Friday afternoon.

Afterward, head coach Kyle Whittingham said his No. 1 quarterback was "exceptionally sharp."

Wilson still feels like he's thawing out after a damaged artery brought about an offseason freeze on activity, but he was cooking Friday. The junior went 11-for-21 for 182 yards, five touchdowns and no turnovers, and he displayed a knack for escaping pressure.

"I was really happy with my performance — [protected] the football and made some big plays," Wilson said. "I've just got to keep on working and just keep on progressing from that."

The offense appears more and more at ease with the fast-forward tempo preferred by new coordinator Dave Christensen, although Wilson believes they can accelerate further.

Senior Dres Anderson led all receivers with three catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns. The first came on a slant across the middle from Wilson that he couriered 58 yards to pay dirt, and the second on a fly route up the left sideline to grab an in-stride pass lofted by Wilson from 37 yards away.

Senior tight end Westlee Tonga was the beneficiary of two Wilson strikes in red zone work, and junior running back Bubba Poole also scored on a short Wilson dump-off. Sophomore Marcus Sanders-Williams was the day's leading rusher with eight carries for 73 yards, including a 39-yard north-south rumble.

"You have to give credit to the offense," said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake. "I thought the offensive line did a good job. We wanted to see some of our younger guys respond. It took them a little while to get used to it but I think that when you go live, there's nothing like it."

It probably helped the Ute offense that Sitake sat stalwarts Nate Orchard, Brian Blechen and Eric Rowe. Junior linebackers Gionni Paul and Jared Norris were also limited.

"We already know what those guys can do," Sitake said. "It's about time we see what these younger guys can do, especially in something that's close to a game."

Sophomore defensive end Pita Taumoepenu raced around the edge for one sack and recovered a fumble, and junior defensive end Jason Fanaika and senior cornerback Chandler Johnson also recorded sacks — or, at least, they likely would have if the quarterback was fair game.

In the race for No. 2 quarterback, redshirt freshman Conner Manning may have nudged the bumper of junior Adam Schulz. Manning was 9-for-16 for 66 yards — in rhythm on an early drive that was punctuated by a 5-yard Devontae Booker rushing score — while Schulz went just 1-for-7 for 10 yards.

Whittingham said broadly that he was hesitant to speak about separation until the coaches can break down the tape. But he felt that "it was very clean, and overall it was a very positive practice."

Whittingham also said it was "great to see" sophomore place-kicker Andy Phillips nail 8 of 9 attempts — going 5-for-5 on kicks beyond 38 yards and hitting a 53-yarder in the two-minute drill.

"He's in a groove right now and he works hard," Whittingham said. "He's been very consistent all throughout spring, and his leg is stronger this year."

Junior kicker Jon Halliday went 10-for-11, albeit with five of his attempts coming from 28 yards or less.

It's the first of three scrimmages for the Utes. The next comes next Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, and the Spring Game will be held at 1 p.m. April 19.

mpiper@sltrib.com

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Scrimmage leaders

Passing • Travis Wilson 11-21-0, 182 yards, 5 TDs; Conner Manning 9-16-0, 66 yards; Adam Schulz 1-7-0, 10 yards; Brandon Cox 2-8-0, 36 yards.

Receiving • Dres Anderson 114 yards, 2 TDs; Westlee Tonga 43 yards, 2 TDs; Bubba Poole 31 yards, 1 TD; Siale Fakailoatonga 30 yards; Geoffrey Norwood 25 yards; Dominique Hatfield 23 yards; Delshawn McClellon 20 yards.

Rushing • Marcus Sanders-Williams 8 carries, 73 yards, 1 TD; Bubba Poole 10 carries, 45 yards; Troy McCormick 6 carries, 31 yards; Devontae Booker 7 carries, 31 yards, 1 TD; Dre'Vian Young 3 carries, 19 yards.