Utah’s offense has the playmakers to be even more dangerous in 2022
Cameron Rising walked onto the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday to a hearty ovation from the crowd on hand. The defending Pac-12 champions wouldn’t be so without Rising’s performance last season. He changed the team, providing some dynamism to a team that already had a championship-caliber defense.
Six plays into his 2022 spring game performance, Rising was giving the Utah faithful on hand something else to cheer about, delivering an absolute bullet to redshirt freshman tight end Taniela Pututau. The ball sailed just over a defender’s outstretched arm. Pin-point accuracy.
Rising was sharp. He was very, very sharp.
It took six plays to see enough to think, “Yeah, these guys are undoubtedly the favorites again.”
The defense has to replace key players. Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell and Mika Tafua and Vonte Davis are all excellent players. Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is going to need to work some magic over the upcoming months.
But that offense, boy does it have some intriguing talent.
Rising makes so much of it work at a high level, and his very first pass attempt was the exact kind of step we were looking to see if he’d take next season.
“Rising took a shot 20-plus yards downfield on 15% of his throws in 2021, but only completed them at a 37.5% clip, per PFF.
“Utah got 10 yards out of its passing game on a little over a third of its overall attempts, the 15th-best rate in the country, which was great. Move those chains. It got 20 yards out of its passing game on 9.5% of its overall attempts, good for 91st nationally. Which was not so great. …
”If that next piece of Rising’s game develops, a play-action game he is already comfortable in becomes deadly and Utah’s offense takes another step.”
The first play for Rising on Saturday was a play-action shot to wideout Devaughn Vele for 21 yards. Rising threw a strike, getting it again just over a defender and right where his wideout could make a play on the ball. Rising made a perfect throw look easy.
Then he hit Vele on a slant for another 14 yards. The former walk-on wideout froze the defender in front of him right at his break and give Rising a huge window to fit the ball in.
Rising missed wideout Makai Cope on an out route from the opposite hash on the next play. Just an overthrow. It was raining. If you miss, miss out of bounds.
He followed it up with a back-shoulder throw to Cope on a go route the next play. Nice ball placement away from the defender, even better catch. Another 17 yards. Utah was in the red zone in a hurry.
An incompletion on a lofted throw to the opposite side of the field in the back of the end zone came just before the touchdown dart. The score was a driven ball, right on time, right on the money.
Six attempts, four different targets. And that was Rising’s day.
“He was very smooth out there. He was sharp,” coach Kyle Whittingham said after the game. “What Cam did was what we had hoped and expected. He came in and engineered a touchdown drive and made it look easy, and that was his day’s work.”
Sharp quarterback play will make this collection of skill talent even better.
Starting with Vele, the fourth-year man has had a phenomenal spring by most accounts. He had 23 receptions for 389 yards (16.9 ypc) and a touchdown last season, but in Utah’s search for a new No. 1 target out wide, the 6-foot-5 man looks like the answer. Vele finished with three catches for 72 yards in the spring game.
“You saw Devaughn Vele catch a few balls from (Rising), and they have started developing a good chemistry together,” Whittingham said. “We had a few receivers who didn’t play today, and we have a few coming in this summer that we will add to the receiver group.
“It’s big. It’s big for Cam to have a guy that you have great chemistry with, and Solomon Enis is another guy that he has good chemistry with on the field. If Devaughn can stay healthy and continue to make plays, the plays he made all spring long, and carry that over to fall camp and into the season, he could have a big year for us.”
Another guy who could have a big year: freshman running back Jaylon Glover. What was maybe most impressive was his first snap—a clean pass-protection rep. He finished with 36 yards on five carries. The 5-foot-7 freshman is well-built and looks ready to play immediately.
“He has a high ceiling, that’s for sure,” running back Micah Bernard told the Pac-12 Network crew during the game broadcast. “I can see that he’s still in his high school mode—he’s trying to learn a lot—but once he develops and has been in the system for at least a year, he’s gonna be some trouble. He’s already trouble now, but once he’s learned the system, it’s gonna be ridiculous.
“Jaylon brings a whole different element to our whole room. It’s going to be difficult to gameplan for us.”
Glover has wide eyes and big hopes for such a young running back, unafraid of placing expectations on his shoulders. He won’t have to be relied on in the Utah backfield, with Tavion Thomas and Bernard both in the picture as well, and that should only help. When we see Glover, it’s because he’s more than ready to make an impact.
Vele and Glover were spring winners. We’ll see how they translate that effort to fall camp and the season.
The excitement is in the fact the Utes have that kind of potential to add to all the talent they already know they have.
Thomas ran for 21 touchdowns last year. He’s a strong back. Bernard is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and a shifty back up the gut. As a one-two punch, it doesn’t get much better.
Rising also has two versatile tight end threats to work with in Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe. Those two combined for 86 receptions and 1,121 yards last season. Kuithe has spent this spring period working as a wideout.
“Just felt like it was a great personal decision to get better on the outside,” he told the Pac-12 Network crew during the game. “I normally don’t do in-line stuff, so being outside is great. You’re in a phone booth, so you just really have to work on your releases, be tight in space. It’s been great so far.”
With a slew of talented tight ends behind them, Utah can get super creative with Kuithe and Kincaid. A 13-personnel look from Utah might be a little different from the 13-personnel looks you’ll get from other teams. Kuithe can be a matchup problem.
The backfield versatility gives offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig—already one of the Pac-12’s better play-callers—even more to work with.
It took six plays from the first-team offense to see what we needed to see.
Utah is dangerous.