In Uteville, the news of the end of quarterback Jordan Wynn’s football career will evoke all kinds of emotions, from sadness to frustration to glee.
The proper response: empathy, mixed with relief.
Anyone would have to feel for Wynn, whose injuries kept him from fulfilling the promise he showed as a Utah freshman in a Poinsettia Bowl victory over California. But another shoulder injury seemed inevitable at some point this season, and then what would happen to the Utes? In football, there’s ability and then there’s availability.
Counting his second-quarter exit Friday in Logan, Wynn started and finished only four of Utah’s last 16 games. Even if he could have come back this season, which appears unlikely — and moot now that he’s decided to give up the game — nobody would have known how long he would last.
That explains my suggestion of relief. The Utes will turn to some combination of Jon Hays and Travis Wilson and play on in 2012, without wondering about Wynn’s durability.
First, though, there must be some appreciation for Wynn. Stories are told of a popular Ute fans’ hangout erupting in cheers Friday when Wynn was knocked out of the game. That’s unfair. He went 14-7 as Utah’s starter, beat BYU twice (and lost once in overtime), was named the offensive MVP of his only bowl game with 338 yards passing and three touchdowns against Cal and then quarterbacked the Utes into the top 10 during his sophomore season.
Beyond that, he already recovered from a total of three surgeries on his two shoulders and was determined to have a good year.
“He fought so hard and came back so many times,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Watching him throw the ball in spring practice, it was natural to believe that everything just might come together for Wynn, who said then, “We’re going to let ’er rip.”
Instead, more disaster.
“My heart goes out to him,” tight end Dallin Rogers said. “It is unfortunate, it really is. But there’s nothing we can do about it.”
My forecast is Hays will start against BYU this week and maintain that role indefinitely, while Wilson will remain a situational player and possibly take over at some point — much as Wynn replaced Terrance Cain in 2009.
Wilson was the No. 3 quarterback as of Friday, so I’d be surprised if he’s ready to take on BYU, Arizona State and USC as the full-time QB in the next three games.
Suddenly, the first half of this season (with UCLA to follow) appears more challenging than anybody figured, and now the Utes again have lost their starting quarterback. They’re where they were last October, when Wynn was sidelined just before halftime of the fourth game. The difference? Then, all they had was Hays. Now, they have an experienced Hays — and Wilson.
Last season, the Utes retreated into a shell offensively without Wynn. Because of Hays’ improvement, “We don’t think we have to reel things in and modify,” Whittingham said.
What the Utes need is better blocking. Wynn’s ineffectiveness at Utah State partly was attributable to poor protection. The original line faltered, so Sam Brenner has moved to left tackle. Clearly, a lot of us overestimated the Utes’ ability to replace tackles Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen, and the loss of veteran line coach Tim Davis (now at Florida) also hurts.
The Utes face a lot of questions this week, starting with coaching. Wynn’s health no longer is an issue. In that sense, Monday’s news almost is an advancement for the program. In human terms, though, Wynn’s knockout blow hits hard.