Utah quarterback competition continues with mixed results
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Every Pac-12 coach knows Devontae Booker is the most talented option on the Utah offense. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham plainly said Thursday that Booker will get as many touches as he wants until he gets tired.
The first-team, all-Pac-12 running back has one request that has nothing to do with carries – competent quarterback play.
Utah is using fall camp to sort out its quarterback competition and no one has really stood out. Travis Wilson currently holds the No. 1 slot as a three-year returning starter. The senior, however, lost his job at times in 2014 to Kendal Thompson, who went down with a season-ending knee injury while starting against Oregon.
The two have been up and down during camp and Thursday’s scrimmage showed much of the same. Wilson completed 6 of 17 passes for 55 yards with an interception. He also ran four times for 18 yards and a touchdown. Thompson was 8 of 20 for 85 yards with an interception. He also ran for 55 yards on six carries. Neither threw a touchdown pass.
The Utes will need more from their starter during the season to keep teams from loading the box and keying on Booker. Three hundred yards and three touchdowns aren’t necessarily needed, according to the star running back.
”Just keep them honest,” Booker said. ”For me, it really doesn’t matter who’s in just as long as they’re out there doing what they need to do and helping the team get wins.”
Wilson ranks fifth in Utah history in completions, attempts, passing yards and touchdown passes. He is known for his big arm while Thompson makes noise with his legs as a better runner.
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick believes the two are more similar than most believe. He said the calls don’t change depending on who’s on the field.
The Utes hope the results change from 2014 when both had opportunities. Utah ranked dead last in the Pac-12 in total offense despite having the third-best rushing offense. The 197.7 passing yards per game ranked last in the conference and a 60.6 completion percentage was the third lowest.
Roderick said both have improved, but he’s still not happy. He called the progress, ”on schedule.”
Wilson said he’s trying to be more vocal on the field and be a better leader. Thompson is focused on consistency.
Roderick may see the two as similar runners, but Thompson hopes that sets him apart.
”I always tell Coach Whitt, I can escape out of a telephone booth,” Thompson said. ”Efficiency. Consistency and just being a playmaker. In the Pac-12 you’re going to face teams, scheme-wise, sometimes we’re going to get beat.
”I think the main thing for all of us is we’re able to make plays and extend plays. And that’s something I especially feel comfortable. I feel like that’s when I’m at my best. When the play breaks down, that’s sometimes when the play starts for me.”
The Utes have three weeks to settle on a signal-caller before the season kicks off with a home game against Michigan. The team sees the game as an opportunity for a fast start and to send a message to the college football world. That becomes more difficult if a quarterback doesn’t improve on what has so far been an up-and-down camp.
Redshirt freshman Chase Hansen represents the future and Whittingham said they will install packages to get him on the field this season – possibly wildcat or red zone schemes. But barring a surprise, Wilson or Thompson will take the first snap against Michigan.
Whittingham laid out the determining factors Thursday.
”Who moves the football team?” Whittingham said. ”Who moves the chains? Who gets us in the end zone? Who takes care of it?
”Those are really the criteria. No. 1, don’t turn it over. No. 2 is moving the football team in these scrimmages. Which quarterback can get the first downs and get the ball in the end zone.”