Even in the brief portions of Utah football practice open to media, sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley shows the ability to slide around the pass rush and dart out of the pocket, either turning upfield for big chunks of yardage or unleashing rocket throws to receivers.
A 6-foot-1, 190-pound former Florida Gatorade Player of the Year, Huntley remains in the running for the Utes’ starting quarterback job along with senior Troy Williams. He appears, at least from the outside, the underdog due to Williams’ experience and status as the returning starter.
However, Huntley’s athleticism and improvisational ability are potentially game-changing. A year of experience in the program and a new offense installed by first-year offensive coordinator Troy Taylor could make Huntley a tempting choice for the Utes.
“He’s electric,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s able to make a play when everything breaks down. He can escape and extend the play and make something happen. Not that Troy’s not good at that because Troy is good, but Tyler is exceptional at that part of the game.”
Huntley’s exposure to the college game was limited last season. He attempted seven passes while playing in games against Southern Utah, San Jose State, Arizona and Indiana. Four of those attempts came in season-opening rout of Southern Utah. He was able to play a key role in the Foster Farms Bowl against Indiana, rushing for 23 yards and a touchdown, and completing his only pass attempt for 36 yards.
This year, Huntley has become even more comfortable and confident.
“I see more things clearly now,” Huntley said. “The game slowed down a lot for me, and it just feels good to be out there and know what I’m doing.”
Taylor’s pass-oriented offense has similarities to the system Huntley thrived in at Hallandale High School, where he spread the ball to teammate such as Utes sophomore receiver Demari Simpkins and sophomore running back Zack Moss. Huntley passed for 3,636 yards with 42 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a high school senior.
One of the main goals of Taylor’s offensive system has been to simplify the reads and responsibilities of the quarterback. Taylor stresses that even an athletically-gifted player like Huntley must stay within the structure of the offense, since the offense is set up to play to the strength of highly-instinctive players.
“[The offense is] not simple like running five plays, but the use of simplicity in terms of taking something that’s complex and making it easy to understand and user friendly,” Taylor said. “That’s what I attempt to do with the offense because I know players don’t tend to play — especially quarterbacks — play well if they‘re thinking too much.”
It appears that Taylor’s offense may have provided some clarity for Huntley. Simpkins has pointed to Huntley’s decision making as the biggest area of progress since coming to Utah. Simpkins said Huntley often used to force passes and make plays on the run only to end up making the wrong decision. This year, Huntley has been more likely to throw the ball away or take a few yards with his legs and get down.
For Huntley, things have become simple as he’s adjusted to speed of the game and gotten a grasp of the new offense.
“It’s more of a playbook where we just go out there and make the plays,” Huntley said. “The plays are there. You’ve just got to make them.”
A potential playmaker: Huntley completed 5 of 7 passes for 60 yards without a touchdown or an interception as a true freshman last season for the Utes. He also rushed nine times for 15 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 23 yards and one touchdown in the Utes’ win over Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl, and he also completed a season-long 36-yard pass in that game. … Huntley entered the program in the winter of 2016 coming off of winning the 2015 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year award at Hallandale High School. In four years as a starter, he passed for 9,053 yards and 106 touchdowns and posted a 34-10 record. He led Hallandale to the 5A regional finals for the first time in school history as a senior.