Kragthorpe: Ute QB Wilson improving, with more to prove
As it happens, the two teams that freshman Travis Wilson has beaten as a starting quarterback do not appear on Utah's schedules the next two seasons. California and Washington State will be replaced by Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12's rotation.
So it is premature to say Wilson has improved tremendously the Utes' offensive future, but he's enhancing the current outlook. Thanks partly to Colorado's 76-yard production against Stanford, Utah no longer is the Pac-12's statistically worst offensive team, and the Utes (4-5) can become bowl-eligible by winning two of their three remaining games.
What's next in Wilson's development?
"A signature road win, probably and this is a great opportunity," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said about Saturday's game at Washington.
The Utes have scored only one offensive touchdown in each of their three Pac-12 road games, including Wilson's starts at UCLA and Oregon State. It'll take more production to beat the Huskies in Seattle.
Wilson is making progress, though, becoming more comfortable all the time.
"It's a lot different, definitely, than when I first started," Wilson said Monday. "I feel like everyone around me trusts me that I can make plays and get the job done."
The Pac-12 is a quarterback-driven league, and the Utes would like to believe they've discovered one of their own. Not every school is going to have a QB like USC's Matt Barkley this year or Stanford's Andrew Luck last season, but you'd better have a capable player at that position. While Wilson is improving, he has more to prove when it comes to downfield throws.
Jordan Wynn may have approached that genuine Pac-12 quarterbacking level if he had stayed healthy, but we'll never know. Jon Hays did his best as a temporary replacement, getting the Utes into the Sun Bowl and winning it last season.
Yet the recruiting gap between Wynn and Wilson (the Utes missed out on Washington's Keith Price, among others) was illustrated in early October, when the Utes sent Hays against Barkley and the Trojans.
Wilson's opportunity came only after Wynn's injury and Hays' ineffectiveness. Whether an earlier switch to Wilson would have made any difference in the Utes' season is difficult to say. But his growth is reflecting well on offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, who suddenly looks like he knows what he's doing with help from some downtrodden defenses.
After a 453-yard day against Washington State, the team's biggest production since a 2011 game at BYU, the Utes have moved to 106th nationally in total offense, averaging 324.4 yards. Considering they close the regular season against Arizona and Colorado, the league's worst two defenses, they have a chance to crack the top 100.
That would be a breakthrough. Becoming bowl-eligible also would be significant because that requires either Wilson beating Washington in a tough environment Saturday or outscoring Arizona's potent offense next week in addition to a seemingly guaranteed win at Colorado.
In 2009, Wynn's entry came later in his freshman season. He was ticketed to redshirt until the eighth game, when he replaced Terrance Cain at halftime and salvaged a win over Wyoming. As a starter, Wynn's first two wins came at home against two poor Mountain West teams, New Mexico and San Diego State. He lost to TCU and BYU on the road before beating Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl in his fifth start.
Wilson was eased into the starting job after appearing in the first five games in specialty packages and a mop-up role. After two road losses, he has delivered two home wins, while not being asked to carry the offense.
Someday, he'll have to do that.
Travis Wilson by the numbers
Here's how Utah quarterback Travis Wilson's statistics through four starts compare to Jordan Wynn's in 2009:
Opponent • Comp. Att. Yds. TD Int. Result
UCLA • 23 33 220 0 1 L, 21-14
Oregon State • 15 28 172 1 2 L, 21-7
California • 16 24 156 0 1 W, 49-27
Washington State • 17 21 171 2 1 W, 49-6
Total • 71 106 719 3 5
Opponent • Comp. Att. Yds. TD Int. Result
New Mexico • 18 28 297 2 1 W, 45-14
TCU • 16 32 219 1 1 L, 55-28
San Diego State • 14 28 195 1 0 W, 38-7
BYU • 21 41 198 0 1 L, 26-23 (OT)
Total • 69 129 909 4 3