Things deviated a little bit from the usual script for Utah in the 2016 edition of its annual Red-White Game. Once again, the defense stole the spotlight with trademark toughness and aggressiveness. Still, the offense showed enough flashes to offer hope that the Utes can take steps forward on that side of the ball this season.
What does Utah's spring game — a 14-7 victory for the White team over the Red team — mean ahead of fall camp? Here are five thoughts on what could be in store for the Utes going forward:
1. Nothing is settled in the QB battle
Junior college transfer Troy Williams missed most of spring camp with an injury, but he is widely seen as the front-runner to win the starting quarterback job in the fall. Such an outcome may not be as clear cut as it once was with how Tyler Huntley has progressed.
Huntley put together an impressive performance while quarterbacking the White team. The true freshman threw for 233 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-26 passing. He showed great arm strength with multiple passes going for 25 yards or longer. Huntley likely gained a slight edge on sophomore Brandon Cox, who threw for 146 yards on 17-of-31 passing.
“He looked poised and confident from start to finish,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, evaluating Huntley's performance.
For his part, Huntley is confident he has a shot to push Williams and maybe even earn a chance to start if he keeps progressing.
“I still make plays every day on a consistent basis, so I just got to keep doing my thing,” Huntley said. “This game just shows me that I can make a lot of plays in there and I can just build from there.”
2. Caleb Repp could be headed for a breakout season
After seeing limited action at tight end last season, Repp could carve out a much bigger role at receiver in 2016. Repp shined on Saturday, hauling in five catches for 96 yards. He had two receptions of 30 yards or longer, including a 36-yard strike from Huntley for the game's only touchdown pass.
At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Repp certainly has the size to create matchup problems for defense. He faces significant competition with Cory Butler-Byrd, Tyrone Smith, Raelon Singleton and Tim Patrick also in the mix at wide receiver. But Repp feels like his size will help him flourish in getting open and making plays.
“I'm bigger than most the guys out there, so it really helps me out there,” Repp said.
3. Dropped passes still a concern with receivers
Utah looked out-of-sync on offense throughout the first half of its spring game. Some of it could be credited to strong play from the defense. Some of the blame lay with sloppy play from the receivers. Several receivers dropped passes early and it took a while before things finally started clicking.
A total of 16 different receivers ended up catching passes between the two squads. Chad Hekking, a freshman tight end, led the way with 63 yards on seven catches. But the number of dropped passes to start is a concern given how much drops have plagued the Utah offense in recent seasons.
Whittingham feels like he has seen progress through the spring from the position group.
“We've got a lot accomplished,” Whittingham said. “We made a lot more plays on the outside with the wide receivers than we have in a long time and that's got to continue.”
4. Defensive line is stacked again
If anything is more certain in life than death and taxes, it might be Utah fielding a strong defensive line season after season. None of the starters played up front, but the Utes did not skip a beat. A total of 82 rushing yards on 29 carries were generated by the Red and White squads. Both quarterbacks felt tons of pressure even in a basic 4-3 defensive set.
Kendall Huey and Chris Hart had the top individual performances among the defensive linemen. Huey tallied five tackles, three tackles for a loss and three sacks for the White team. Hart had three tackles, one tackle for a loss and one sack for the Red team.
5. Linebackers making progress
Replacing playmakers like Gionni Paul and Jared Norris is critical for Utah's success this season. A pool of untested players are in the linebacker ranks for the Utes this season. Things are not settled going into fall camp and that is a position battle Whittingham wants to see settled long before the season opener against Southern Utah approaches.
Christian Drews and Jake Jackson both made a case for earning playing time at linebacker on Saturday. Drews totaled 10 tackles to lead the White team. Jackson had seven tackles to lead the Red team. Alex Whittingham and Justin Tatola also had strong games with Whittingham totaling six tackles and Tatola getting four tackles.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.