In complete disarray following the debacle in Logan on Friday night, the Utah Utes need a guy to step up and be the calming force that brings the team together as the rivalry game against BYU approaches.
Jon Hays, the often overlooked and disregarded quarterback, says he is ready to be that guy, just as he was last year.
Hays, who filled in for quarterback Jordan Wynn when he suffered a left shoulder injury in the second quarter of the Utes' 27-20 overtime loss to the Aggies, said he is up to the challenge of guiding the Utes for as long as necessary.
Although initial X-rays of Wynn's shoulder were negative, the Utes won't know how long Wynn is sidelined until further examinations are performed.
Luckily Hays has experience in this role, since he went 6-3 as Utah's starter last year. It took time for Hays to grow into the position in 2011, but he feels more confident now, even if the Utes appear to be in a desperate situation following the embarrassing loss.
It's a telling sign of just how bad Friday's loss was when Wynn's injury is almost a footnote to what was overall a horrendous showing by the Utes, from dumb penalties to poor offensive efforts to defensive breakdowns.
Hays evidently sensed just how bad the defeat was for his teammates Friday, as insisted the Utes need to rebound and get their focus on Saturday's game against BYU rather than hang their heads in a funk over the loss.
"Leadership is more important now than ever," he said. "It starts with the players themselves. The coaches can push us, but we have to push ourselves and take over."
Statements such as that, and his improved play, are probably the main reasons the Utes will likely stick with Hays at quarterback even though freshman Travis Wilson is believed to be the future for the Utes.
The truth of Friday's game was that the Utes' offense was struggling with Wynn at quarterback and Hays might have been a better option anyway.
Thanks to his ability to run, Hays drew more respect from Utah State's defense and had more success at moving the chains than Wynn did.
Hays finished Friday's game 12 of 26 for 154 yards and a touchdown and no sacks, while Wynn was 6 for 11 for 47 yards and was sacked three times.
"We have all the faith in Jon Hays," running back John White said. "We came back and rallied without Jordan and took it to overtime with him. He has a heart as big as the world, and he is going to fight for this team. That is all he cares about."
As Wynn's replacement in 2011, Hays worked with a limited playbook because his throwing skills weren't on a level necessary to run the offense.
But Hays worked hard in the offseason and often looked like the most accurate passer in the preseason.
That improvement carried into Friday's game when he gave the Utes an immediate lift, going 4 for 5 for 42 yards to set up the Utes' first field goal.
While he failed to lead the Utes to a comeback, he seemed more comfortable guiding the offense than Wynn did.
This time around, the Utes might not have to slim down the playbook or rely so much on White's running abilities thanks to Hays' improvement.
"I feel good about this offense," he said. "I'll get with coach [Brian] Johnson and get ready for BYU, but I'm confident in this offense."
It's a good thing he has confidence now. The Utes desperately need it.
Jon Hays file
6-foot, 208 pounds, Sr.
Notes • Initially signed with Nebraska-Omaha after finishing his career at Butte College and then joined the Utes when Nebraska-Omaha eliminated its football program. ... Completed 120 of 214 passes for 1,459 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. ... Had a career-high three touchdowns against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.