Utah offense to be more 50-50 run-pass without Booker
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah's offense is in transition after two years of being placed squarely on the shoulders of running back Devontae Booker. The program had the fifth and sixth-most rushing attempts in school history the last two years as the coaching staff openly gave Booker as many carries as he could handle.
The former Ute is expected to be an early-round pick in the NFL draft next week.
That leaves Joe Williams and Troy McCormick battling vying for a starting job that will look different than the past two seasons.
''It's not a 30-carry a game Devontae Booker situation,'' coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''We're going to spread the ball around a little bit more.''
Utah wrapped up its spring session with the Red-White game on Saturday and the offense is still developing after the loss of Booker and four-year starting quarterback Travis Wilson. There were more plays made in the passing game and the run-pass balance should be a little more even during the 2016 season than it has the last two.
That doesn't make the Utah a pass-first team as it tries to replace Wilson. Junior Brandon Cox was the most consistent during the spring, but wasn't head-and-shoulders better than freshman Tyler Huntley. Junior transfer Troy Williams is the most likely starter, but missed most of spring with an injury.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said the goal is a 50-50 split run-pass even though much of the spring scrimmages focused on the pass game with new quarterbacks. That's a significant difference than in recent years. The Utes averaged 203 more rushing attempts the last two seasons with Booker featured and 108 more rush attempts from 2011-13.
''The run game really doesn't change a whole lot,'' Roderick said. ''We're going to run the same stuff. We just need guys to step up. Nobody's going to be Booker.
''With Booker we were going to feed him. And Travis (Wilson) was such a good runner, that also added a few carries a game.''
Williams, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior, has the leg-up in the competition to start after filling in for Booker after he was lost to a knee injury down the stretch of 2015. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry on 104 touches and scored three touchdowns. He improved his pass protection during the spring and ran a little more aggressively, something running backs coach Dennis Erickson was hoping to see. Williams also caught the ball well.
Roderick said he just needed more reps this spring and the chance to be involved in everything after having a specialized role before Booker was injured last year.
Williams didn't have any issue competing with McCormick as the two are good friends, but he approached the spring as the job was his to lose.
''Going into this spring ball, that was my mentality,'' Williams said. ''I've got the mentality that it's my job and I'm not going to let anyone take it.''
McCormick was back on the field this session for the first time since he suffered a knee injury last spring that required surgery and kept him out the 2015 season. The 5-9, 178-pound junior was running a 4.38 40-yard dash before the injury.
Erickson said McCormick had to regain trust in the knee, but he's confident in the duo as a 1-2 punch with guys that are different enough to use in different situations.
''He has great speed and change of direction and explosiveness,'' said Roderick, who indicated McCormick and Williams will see time on the field together in the fall. ''He's a tightly wound up little guy that can make people miss in space and he can run away from people. And he's a really tough kid.''
McCormick wasn't quite 100 percent this spring and he wore a bulky knee brace that was cumbersome. He wanted to show coaches that he's gotten stronger, improved in pass protection and is catching the ball better out of the backfield.
''I just let the chips fall (where they may),'' McCormick said. ''I just go out and play and do what I can do to help the team in any way.
''I don't think we're really looking at how to fill in for Booker. Just doing what we can do to improve on what we can do for the team. ... We're just trying to bring excitement.''
The biggest concern for the coaches is depth. There is no clear-cut Nos. 3 or 4 back and that probably won't be decided until the fall when incoming freshman are also in the mix.