Red-White game showcases potential


Travis WIlson hands off the ball to running back Troy McCormick at last Saturday’s Red-White Game. Photo by Brent Uberty.

Travis WIlson hands off the ball to running back Troy McCormick at last Saturday’s Red-White Game. Photo by Brent Uberty.
Travis WIlson hands off the ball to running back Troy McCormick at last Saturday’s Red-White Game. Photo by Brent Uberty.

As has been the case over the past few years, Saturday’s annual Red-White Game gave Utah the opportunity to show how its new offense is progressing.

If Saturday was an accurate indication, things are going well, as that side of the ball dominated the day. In the end, the Red team managed to beat the White squad 28-27 in front of 12,056 fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Junior quarterback Travis Wilson threw for 116 yards, completing 7-of-12 passes with a touchdown to pace the Red team. Wilson, who will be evaluated at the end of July to see if he will be fit to play this fall, said Saturday was the most confident he felt all spring.

“I am just really happy,” he said. “To come out here with a full crowd, I am happy with my performance and I think everyone really played well. I am just happy with everyone’s performance.”

Wilson wasn’t the only quarterback to have a nice afternoon. Redshirt freshman Brandon Cox also aided in the Red victory on 5-of-9 passing for 126 yards. He also ran for a score.

For the White team, redshirt freshman Conner Manning was 9-of-12 for 86 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown pass to senior Westlee Tonga. With less than a minute to go after running back Devontae Booker scored from one yard out, Manning and his squad elected to go for a two-point conversion for the win but failed.

“We all handled it well as group,” Manning said of spring ball as a whole. “We have all really matured physically and mentally with this new offense. I felt like this spring went really well for us.”

While the quarterbacks each had good performances Saturday, a few lesser-known players also had nice days. Sophomore receiver Dominique Hatfield had four catches for 93 yards and a 46-yard touchdown while Booker, a junior college transfer product possible. I’m not around the Red Rocks all day every day, but I get the feeling that they were all just friends this season and that no gymnast was really willing or effectively able to step up and be a leader. Moving forward, Utah needs to find a gymnast or two who will be that vocal leader.

Along those same lines, Red Rocks coaches need to make sure they’re recruiting athletes who are mentally tough. Yes, gymnasts need to be able to perform at a high physical level, but Utah needs athletes who are mentally tough, too. The Marsdens need to find people who can be dialed in at all times and can shake off a bad routine when it happens. The team has always received a great deal of mental coaching, but it needs athletes who are naturally strong from a mental standpoint.

Some of this falls on the Marsdens. It’s easy to see how they could fall into the trap of turning this program too much into a family and not enough into a team. This program is their life, and they care about their gymnasts like a mother and father would. Perhaps things would go better if they made sure to emphasize even more the fact that they’re coaches and not parents to their athletes.

It appears that the door on Utah winning its 11th national championship will be shut for the foreseeable future. This year seemed to be the chance for the Red Rocks to do it with the wealth of experience they had, but they couldn’t get the job done. Four seniors will be replaced by a crop of young freshmen who are likely talented, but don’t have collegiate experience.

But all the talent in the world alone won’t get Utah out of this funk. A culture of mental toughness and a group of gymnasts who are willing to put aside friendships for the betterment of the team is what will help carry the Red Rocks from really good to great once again.

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