Running back Devontae Booker finally arrived in the Utah Utes football program this summer after getting his academics sorted out. Booker may have arrived one year too late, however, because Bubba Poole isn't about to just give up his throne--and he and the other hopefuls at running back are making Utes coaches consider all sorts of options.
Sound familiar? It should. You just finished watching a monumental quarterback battle go down between incumbent Travis Wilson and newcomer Kendal Thompson. Wilson endured rumors of his own demise yet still came out on top in the end. Even so, Utes coaches still say Thompson will get a few snaps.
The arrival of new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen signaled that change was about to take place at Utah. So did the arrival of Thompson, who transferred from Oklahoma fixing to take over Wilson's spot. And so did the arrival of Booker--which should have taken place last year but didn't because of some well-publicized issues with his academic transcripts.
Booker has all the talent in the world. All you have to do is look at his stats from his days at American River College in his hometown of Sacramento--also the place where he allegedly doctored a transcript with the help of a school administrator.
Booker's American River College stats were glorious in the one season he played there (he sat out the 2013 season due to academic fraud allegations): 1,472 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Looking at his highlights from 2012 only accentuates--once you get beyond the soundtrack's salty language--that he can play.
So Booker is now, finally, in the Utes program. Yet his arrival on campus hasn't generated the kinds of publicity that it would have last season--after John White ran out of eligibility. You can attribute part of that to Booker's production in the two scrimmages thus far--and part of it to his competition.
Booker's first scrimmage netted him 17 rushing yards on six carries--he was the only Ute RB to score a TD, though. His second scrimmage yielded better overall results on fewer carries, as Booker ran for 73 yards on just two carries--but the second carry, that was one for the highlight reel, indeed.
Booker showed ability on the second carry by finding a hole out of nothing during that second scrimmage and blasting into daylight for a 40-yard run. Booker's problem is the Utes don't just have him to go to now.
During that same scrimmage, redshirt freshman Troy McCormick reminded folks of Barry Sanders. McCormick, who is smaller in stature than Booker at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds soaking wet, still ran for 89 yards on eight carries, including an electrifying 59-yard TD burst on which he juked several defenders before zooming into the end zone with his 4.38 40-yard-dash speed.
Then there's Poole, a returning starter who had 607 yards last season--yet who only reached beyond the pylons twice. Poole is the cool head on the field, a natural leader who averaged four yards per carry.
The final issue for Booker, not that he needs another one to deal with, is that the coaching staff has been adamant about there being a number of ways in which the team can get rushing yardage. After the second scrimmage, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham told the assembled media that the logjam at running back would "sort itself out" when the Utes played Idaho State in the season opener.
Whittingham took that assessment one step further on Tuesday, outlining the team's running back-by-committee approach in more detail. Not only will Booker be used in some offensive sets, but so will the game-breaker McCormick and the veteran Poole.
"I don't think it really matters either way. If someone does step forward and separates themselves, that person will get the majority of the carries and the reps," Whittingham said post-practice. "But as long as we're getting the bottom-line numbers in the rushing game, maybe 50 yards from each of the top three or 150 from one guy, it doesn't really matter as long as we're getting that production."
Booker is obviously the closest the Utes have been to having a player who is the caliber of a John White. Yet McCormick has proven during fall camp that he is capable of making big plays. To a degree, so has Poole, who is more of a team leader than the other two backs. Either way, you'll know more about these three by the Idaho State game.