Ute players got half way through their last two-a-day of the season Friday morning at Rice Eccles Stadium, with one last evening session to go before closing camp with a third scrimmage on Saturday morning. The Utes looked to clean up their game and finish up strong as they transition into regular-season practice schedules and balancing class work starting on Monday.
The morning got started with drills, which are increasingly focused more on game-type situations than on technique and fundamentals. For receivers, their constant attention to detail has resulted in crisp route running, across the board. The offensive line is starting to move as one singular unit, rather than five separate pieces, and overall, things are falling into place.
In mainly seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 work, the day was mainly a draw, with both sides of the ball coming up with plays in a see-saw-like battle. For example, Terrance Cain had a couple of balls batted down, one by Joe Kruger, he then followed up with a 25 yard hook-up to Zach Wade in tight coverage. The ball, seemingly on a frozen rope, was put in the only place it could have been caught through two defenders. And so it went throughout the course of practice.
The back and forth was no different for the first unit, either. After dodging some heavy pressure on a couple of prior plays, Jordan Wynn executed a beautiful play action fake, and then hit Jereme Brooks who found space in the middle of the field for about 30 yards.
With both units pushing each other, the competition intensified, making for good game-time preparation. Kyle Whittingham liked what he saw out of his team noting, "It was a good day. Some good competition, some good live work at the end. The offense made a couple of plays when it had to. Defense, the defense did a pretty good job throughout the course of practice until the offense got the upper hand in the live work."
Going into the last week of camp, the offense made eliminating mental mistakes, penalties, turnovers, and sacks a priority. Friday, the unit accomplished some of that, finishing with no offensive penalties, fewer sacks with just two on the day.
Turnovers weren't entirely eliminated, but still improved, as Terrance Cain gave up an interception, which would undoubtedly have been a pick-six at game speed, to Wykie Freeman. Going against Devonte Christopher on a quick out pattern, Freeman jumped the route for the pick.
With limited reps for precautionary reasons, Matt Asiata has had a quiet camp so it was a good sight when he broke a 60 + yard run through an aggressive defense that just guessed wrong. After slipping one tackle, Asiata impressively exploded through the gap, quickly into the second level and was gone with no one near able to catch him.
After exchanging blows with their defensive brethren all day, the offense closed the day out strong, starting drives backed up in their own end zone. On the Wynn-led drive the offense stalled at 3rd and long after a one yard rush by Tauni Vakapunaand overthrown incompletion near the sideline to Dallin Rogers.
On third down, however, Wynn hit Shaky Smithson on a short cross across the middle and Smithson was able to beat the coverage and outrun two would-be tacklers for approximately 71 yards before finally being pushed out of bounds.
In addition to making the highlight play of the day, Smithson was the standout on the day, with multiple catches, including another long gainer. Kyle Whittingham noted that Smithson "had a nice day" and hesitated to single anyone else out on the day finishing the thought with "just Shaky."
Also backed up in the end zone, Terrance Cain's unit started in similar fashion, gaining little on first and second down plays. On third down, Tauni Vakapuna squirted out for a 20 yard gain to the 21 yard line to wrap up the Friday morning session.
Sausan Shakerin is officially day to day, but with a concussion realistically looks at mid to end of next week before being able to participate.
Eddie Wide was in the pit as well on Friday, but for precautionary reasons. With no official injury, Wide is simply experiencing some tightness in the hamstring, something he has long-struggled with. The official classification is simply "tightness", not an actual strain or pull. He will be held out of Saturday's scrimmage, but is expected to practice next week, and to participate fully in the home/season opener on September 2.