There’s no question offense has been a weak spot for the University of Utah over the past two seasons. Moving the chains and scoring points consistently has been difficult to do against good Pac-12 opponents. If Utah’s spring football game is an accurate barometer, it could be a whole different story on offense in 2014.
The Utes played their annual Red-and-White Spring Game on April 19th. Many defensive starters were held out because of injuries or as a precautionary measure, so the offense was squarely in the spotlight. 12,056 fans were on hand to witness a spread attack that could provide Utah a little more offensive punch this season.
In a 28-27 victory, the Red squad produced 409 yards of offense on 58 plays – good for an average of 7.1 yards per play. The White squad tallied 326 yards on 59 plays – moving the ball 5.5 yards per play. Each team converted more than 50 percent of its third downs and were a combined 6-of-8 on red zone scoring chances.
Utah’s spring game offered a forecast for a few things that could develop in the fall:
1: Travis Wilson is not a guaranteed starter
Utah received a huge morale boost when Wilson was cleared for non-contact drills prior to spring ball after missing the end of last season with an arterial injury in his brain. Wilson participated in the first half of the spring game and was protected from contact by wearing a black jersey. He struggled to move the offense in the first quarter and finished with 116 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-12 passing. Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson has a real chance to unseat Wilson this fall. His mobility is tailor made for Utah’s revamped offense under new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. If Wilson is not back to his old self by fall camp, it may be tough for him to maintain any edge over Thompson.
2: Devontae Booker has the makings of a feature back
No single player did more to make a good first impression than junior college transfer Devontae Booker. The junior running back is the type of power runner Utah sorely missed last season. Booker racked up 103 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He showed a knack for extending plays and running with great tenacity to get extra yardage. Booker is the sort of physical runner that has always been a staple of good Utah teams in the past. He is a frontrunner to be a featured back in the fall.
3: Big plays are making a comeback among the receiving corps
Several receivers and running backs found a way to turn short passes into big gains on both the Red squad and White squad. Dominique Hatfield, Troy McCormick, Brian Allen and Bubba Poole each had at least one catch that went for 30 yards or longer. What does this mean for the Utes? If several receivers and backs can demonstrate a consistent ability to tack on yards after the catch, Utah’s offense will finally have a big play component. This will go a long way to taking some pressure off a defense tasked with facing elite quarterbacks virtually every week.
Pac-12 teams cannot expect to win on defense alone and it looks like Utah’s offense is on the verge finally catching up to the standard set by its defense. If the Utes can stay healthy and continue to progress, they might just get over that 5-7 hump and return to a bowl game for the first time since 2011.
John Coon covers college sports in Utah – including University of Utah football and basketball – for the Associated Press. You can follow him on Twitter at @johncoonsports