Utah’s Backup Quarterback Battle Full Of Intrigue

Mar 30, 2023, 10:03 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – What is spring football without a good quarterback battle? While everyone knows who Utah’s QB1 is, there is a lot of intrigue about who could be QB2 and what that might mean for the Utes’ future in 2024.

With starter Cam Rising out of spring practices while recovering from ACL surgery, a lot of reps have been opened up for the guys behind him. Whittingham also revealed in week one the Utes are not focusing those reps so much on Bryson Barnes who has been their backup the past two seasons, but instead really taking time to evaluate the young guys.

Nate Johnson and Brandon Rose who were freshmen for the Utes in 2022 along with incoming freshman Mack Howard will be the primary targets receiving valuable practice reps through the spring for the Utes.


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May The Best Man Win

Offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Andy Ludwig is excited about the young talent behind Rising, noting they have varying skill sets that make them all great. It will just be a matter of sorting out the pecking order.

“We’re going to put the next best guy in position to be number two, and the third best guy at number three” Ludwig said. “Knowing that competition, it’s a day-in and day-out process. May the best man win. I’m anxious to watch it continue. It was off to a good start, but every day is different.”

Ludwig isn’t the only one seeing some early progress in the QB2 battle. Whittingham in his second interview of spring ball said there is some separation starting to show but not enough to reveal just yet where things are leaning.

“We still have a long way to go and we’re starting to see a little bit of separation,” Whittingham said. “Nothing that is really of comment right now. It’s four practices down, 11 to go, so hopefully as we continue to get deeper into spring ball, we’ll see even more separation in a good way. Guys separating themselves by emerging from the pack. That’s the objective of spring is to get that solidified and if not solidified, a really good start for fall.”

From The Vet’s Perspective

Rising and Barnes have both been repeatedly mentioned by the young guys as helpful sources of information early on in spring while they are taking the majority of the reps. While Rising can’t be out on the field making plays, Barnes can and he has some sage advice for Rose, Johnson, and Howard as they move through practices.

“Just stay relaxed,” Barnes said. “You go in there and you’re tensed up, I mean, you aren’t going to be able to be yourself and play like you’re supposed to. I just tell them to relax, next play mentality and take it one rep at a time. It can be a lot when you are newer coming here. Things are moving fast and it’s easy to kind of let it all fly past you. Take it in, absorb it and move on to the next rep.”


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Barnes admittedly has enjoyed being the more experienced guy out on the field running the show when his number is called, noting it’s nice to be in a place where he knows what is happening.

“It’s kind of funny to see the same mistakes, or same errors I made when I was about that age and teach them ‘hey, next time you see this look, this is what is going on’,” Barnes said. “That way they can get better as well.”

Nate Johnson’ Perspective Of Spring Ball

Last season, Johnson’s status on the team was elevated from scout team quarterback to QB3 after Ja’Quinden Jackson was moved to running back. The Utes put together a couple of special packages later in the year that utilized Johnson’s speed and smarts out on the field and part of why it worked so well according to Rising was Johnson’s ability to constantly ask questions. Johnson believes he is in a good spot this spring because of that experience last fall.

“It’s been awesome me asking those questions and learning from one of the best here,” Johnson said. “He’s obviously been here three, four years so obviously me asking those questions and getting his perspective has helped a lot.”


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Johnson says he’s also seen a lot of growth so far out of Rose who came in the same class as him last year.

“He’s gotten a lot better on and off the field but really on the field,” Johnson said. “I mean, coming from scout to spring ball- he’s been here longer than me, but having him come from scout and seeing him getting those reps and getting comfortable back there. Brandon Rose, he’s slinging it. He’s a really, really good player.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports



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Utah’s Backup Quarterback Battle Full Of Intrigue