Depending on how quickly Tyler Huntley heals, the next time the Utes offense takes the field may be a both foreign and strangely familiar.
Senior quarterback Troy Williams will undoubtedly prepare as though he’s the starter going into Utah’s date with Stanford on Oct. 7. Despite 13 games worth of track record on Williams, there are still questions about what the Utah offense looks like with Williams calling the signals instead of Huntley.
After all, we’ve had few glimpses this season of Williams prior to him being pressed into action Friday night at Arizona when Huntley suffered a shoulder injury. Those prior appearances came in mop-up duty with the outcome already decided. Now, the keys to offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s offense may be handed over to Williams.
“I think we tweak a little bit; it’s not a wholesale change,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday during his weekly news conference. “There’s no reason for that. Troy’s a very capable runner. He’s good in the pocket. So Troy Taylor will, I’m sure, tailor the game plan to fit his specific skill set. But like I said, there’s not a great deal of difference of things that we need to change or do. Troy is fully capable of running this offense just as is.”
Stanford at No. 20 Utah
Saturday, Oct. 7, 8:15 p.m.
TV • FS1
Huntley came out of Friday night’s Pac-12 opener at Arizona due to a shoulder injury after completing 8 of 9 passes for 98 yards and one touchdown. Through three games and a little more than a quarter on Friday, Huntley has completed 73 percent of his passes for 966 yards and six touchdowns. He has also rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
Williams, a 6-foot-2, 208-pound former California high school standout who began his college career at Washington, ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in passing yards last season (2,757). He completed 53.1 percent of his passes and tossed 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions while guiding the Utes to nine wins.
While Williams certainly has mobility, he’s not as dynamic a big-play threat running the ball as Huntley.
“I don’t think it changes a lot,” Utes running back Zack Moss said. “With Tyler, you get a lot more running. I think it’s a lot more different styles there. But like coach said, I think Troy’s able to come in and run this offense at a high level. I don’t see a big drop-off here with him or Tyler.”
Last season, the Utes felt that having a strong running attack was so crucial that the staff coaxed running back Joe Williams out of retirement in order to balance the offense. The passing attack wasn’t as productive as it has been so far this season — 277.8 yards per game compared to 216.7 in 2016.
However, that was also a different offensive system under the direction of former offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick. Taylor has installed a new spread offense with more emphasis on the passing game, and that offense also has the added benefit of an all-conference caliber wide receiver in Darren Carrington II.
“I feel like it’s a big turnaround from last year, especially with a lot of the guys that got some experience last year,” Williams said of the offense. “You could tell that it has helped them a lot this year, like Demari [Simpkins], [Siaosi Wilson] and Raelon [Singleton]. Just being able to have those guys out there and have them in open spaces and be able to give everybody a chance to do something with the ball is good for us.”
On Friday, Williams came in during the second quarter and immediately completed a 40-yard pass to Carrington to convert a third-and-9. Williams completed 9 of 18 passes for 131 yards. He had a touchdown pass on his first drive called back due to Wilson’s heel barely touching the line at the back of the end zone. Another potential touchdown pass went off the intended receiver’s hands.
Williams rushed for 15 yards on four carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run, as the Utes won their Pac-12 opener 30-24.
“I feel like we have a lot more freedom this year, especially at the quarterback position,” Williams said. “Giving guys certain routes or checking to runs if we don’t like the shell by the secondary, things like that. I just feel like it helps us. It’s very quarterback friendly. We just go out there and play. We don’t have to go out there and think too much. You kind of know where everybody is going to be. I feel like it’s been good. It’s been a big change, but it’s been good for us.”
Huntley, Fitts injuries not season-ending
If his comments about the offense didn’t make it clear, Whittingham confirmed Monday that the shoulder injury Huntley suffered at Arizona is not season-ending. Neither is defensive end Kylie Fitts’ leg injury.
“There’s no season-ending injuries, like I said, so we’re going to be optimistic and hope that everybody is ready in two weeks,” Whittingham said. “Maybe that’s wishful thinking, but we’ll have to see what happens.”