The burden of playing quarterback was deeply etched into Troy Williams’ face late Saturday night, as he bobbed in the rough chop in the wake of the Utes’ 23-20 loss to Stanford — on their home field, in front of their home fans.
There was no friendly comfort there.
In that place, in that moment, Williams looked as though he would rather have been somewhere, anywhere else. He suspected the fans of his team, and conditionally of him, were not just filled with disappointment, they were filled with a much more negative emotion. The same people who had cheered for him over the past few hours, suddenly now, in defeat, were pounding rancor at his nose, feeling to him as though it were collapsing in and parachuting out the back of his head.
That rancor spanned from the guy sitting in seat 7, aisle 10, section JJ to the analysts on some postgame shows who considered the outcome, dissected Williams’ performance, and spewed a kind of visceral reaction that was over the top.
Williams did not duck responsibility. And he knew the score, on the board and off it.
A full 10 times during a postgame press conference, Williams said, “I just got to play better.”
What he added to that, though, was significant. He said: “It’s hard, but I know everybody probably hates me right now. … You just have to take it on the chin. Sometimes, it doesn’t go your way. … They love you one minute, they hate you the next.”
And everywhere, including 45 miles to the south, quarterbacks nodded in agreement, knowing exactly what Williams meant.
Of all the positions in all of team sports, there’s nothing quite like everything that comes with playing quarterback. Even at the college level — especially? — the man behind center is the player who gets the glory when circumstances are good and feels the heat when they are bad.
Williams and Tanner Mangum, who heaped plenty of blame upon himself after BYU’s loss to Boise State on Friday night, are taking a blowtorch to their kneecaps right about now. It must be miserable. Mangum played hurt, coming off an ankle injury prematurely to try to help bump his team out of a skid. Williams was targeted a couple of times straight in the teeth by Stanford defenders.
What did they get for their trouble? A loss and a whole lot of hell.
It was Tom Brady who said, “If you’re a quarterback, you want everything on your shoulders. You want to be the one to make the decisions.” And that might be true — if you’re Tom Freaking Brady.
The venom spewed at Williams was too much. He did not play an excellent game against the Cardinal, throwing two interceptions in the fourth quarter that helped the Utes not one iota. In completing 20 of 39 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown, he had some nice moments mixed in, times when he was throwing lasers and times when his passes were wayward.
One of his picks occurred at the Stanford 16-yard line, killing a Ute scoring opportunity. The other came a couple of minutes later at the Stanford 43. The Cardinal punted after each turnover.
Thereafter, Williams led the Utes on a 95-yard scoring drive comprised mostly of his passes, and his taking wicked shots from defenders, punctuated by an 18-yard TD pass to Darren Carrington.
But, then, time ran out.
Utah quarterback Troy Williams and BYU counterpart Tanner Mangum both struggled last week. Their numbers:
Mangum vs. Boise State • 18-33, 168 yards, 2 interceptions
Williams vs. Stanford • 20-39, 238 yards, 2 interceptions.
Utah receiver Raelon Singleton said later of Williams’ performance: “He did a good job. We just didn’t execute.”
Based on many conversations heard afterward, public and private, the injured Tyler Huntley was pined for, and third-stringer Cooper Bateman was called for.
In Provo, where matters have gotten desperate after five straight defeats, Mangum, who started by completing 8 of 9 passes, slowly melted into a mess of ineffectiveness. So much so that freshman QB Joe Critchlow, who had been redshirting, was pulled off that plan and inserted into the game in its final minutes. It was a move that indicated patience by coaches, whether Mangum was compromised, whether backup Beau Hoge would be able to return, had run out.
There are commonalities with Williams and Mangum. Williams led the Utes to nine victories last season, and Mangum led the Cougars to nine wins in 2015, before Huntley took over this season and Taysom Hill supplanted Mangum last year.
Now, both of these quarterbacks are dogs. Or so it would seem based on the hating Williams foresaw. Mangum told me he pays no attention to such negativity. But these guys are human. It must have some effect.
Complaining about or criticizing the quarterback is as old as the game itself. We all do it, right? The man who touches the ball on every play gets the praise, gets the blame. And that’s the way it is.
But Steve Young once described how difficult playing the position is, saying this about that: “I wish everyone who loved football could stand in a quarterback’s shoes just for one play, because I think it would be tremendously humbling to say, ‘I didn’t know. I had no idea.’”
Williams and Mangum do.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.