Utah football: Wilson up for challenge of playing OSU
With a curly mop of hair poking out of a baseball cap set askew on his head, Travis Wilson looks every bit the teenager he is.
Yet when it comes to Utah football, he is man enough to lead the Utes into the future. At least, that's what the Utes are betting as Wilson prepares for the biggest game of his short but promising football career.
With the Utes on a three-game skid, a bowl-appearance streak looking ever more in danger of ending and a contest against the highest-ranked opponent they've faced since 2010, the Utes have put the 18-year-old Wilson firmly in charge of an offense in desperate need of some life.
Can he deliver? You bet, says Wilson and those around him. While he might not be able to single-handedly change the Utes' fortunes against No. 8 Oregon State Saturday in Corvallis, he says he is the right man to be at the helm, baby face and inexperience be damned.
Just ask his coach.
"He is someone who has hit the ground running when he got here and through fall camp he kept improving," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He is ready, and the guys trust him."
While many observers wonder if the Utes have traded their hopes of building toward a future by sacrificing this year to play the 6-foot-6 freshman from San Clemente, Calif., Wilson says he can keep the Utes moving forward.
Wilson, who made his debut against UCLA throwing for 220 yards in the Utes' loss to the Bruins, believes he can handle the pressure and expectations that come with being a starting quarterback in the Pac-12 even if he has never experienced anything like the atmosphere he'll face Saturday. Reser Stadium will be packed and rocking, and the Beavers give up fewer than three touchdowns per game.
The closest comparison to Saturday's event was last year's high school playoffs, in which his San Clemente team lost to San Margarita 27-13 in front of about 16,000 fans at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
Wilson, who was 12 for 15 for 168 yards with an interception in that game, will be in an atmosphere much louder and more intense on Saturday.
"It's definitely going to be a hostile environment," Wilson said. "I just need to stay calm and get done what needs to get done."
Everyone knows what that is on top of the Utes' to-do list. Only six of the 120 teams in the Football Subdivision rankings have an offense that is less productive than Utah's, which is averaging only 302.7 yards a game.
Adding Wilson to the lineup didn't appear to help much against the Bruins, since the Utes managed only one offensive touchdown. But Wilson and his supporters remain faithful the kid can help the Utes improve.
"He is a gamer," said his high school coach, Jaime Ortiz. "He is a guy who always put the team first, and he is excited about this opportunity. But he'll stay focused and do the best he can too."
Wilson's mother, JoMarie, isn't too worrried, either.
"Travis is pretty solid," she said. "He doesn't let things get to him, but I think it's mostly because he is confident in himself and the team. He has realized through being an athlete that he isn't alone out there. Football isn't a single sport with one player. All he can do is do his best and hope all the other players are right along with him."
So far, his teammates have been supportive especially the other quarterbacks. Whether it was starter-turned-backup Jon Hays, who gave Wilson some encouraging words as they walked off the field at the Rose Bowl together, or former quarterback Jordan Wynn, who provided some strategic advice before playing the Bruins, Wilson has his teammates' vote of confidence.
"He has done a good job," Wynn said. "I can remember my first start and the butterflies you have when you are out there. I've just told him to relax and go have fun, and that is what he has done."
Helping Wilson get more comfortable is that the Utes have finished making major changes to their offense. Wilson has said he was comfortable in the spread offense all along, but now a little familiarity has helped him settle into it, so he feels he can focus more on beating opponents, not learning the offense on the fly.
"Guys are a little bigger and a little faster than they were in high school, but nothing has overwhelmed me and made me feel uncomfortable," he said.
He is comfortable now. But he hasn't played Oregon State yet, either.
Travis Wilson is the third QB to start for the Utes this season. Here are the others and how they fared.
Player 2012 career
Jordan Wynn 1-1 14-7
Jon Hays 1-2 7-5
Travis Wilson 0-1 0-1
Travis Wilson file
• 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Fr.
From • San Clemente, Calif.
Of note • Rated the 11th-best overall quarterback by Rivals.com as a high school senior. ... His father played football and his mother played softball for San Diego State. ... Also lettered in volleyball. ... Set school records in high school for passing yards for a career (4,320) and total offense (5,244).
Utah at No. 8 Oregon State
P Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV • ESPN2