Utah offensive coordinator Troy Taylor already made a major decision about the program’s quarterbacking, elevating Tyler Huntley over former starter Troy Williams last August.
Taylor is deferring his next pick of QBs to August. After the Utes’ Red-White Game ended spring practice Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Taylor declared a “dead heat” in the competition — for the No. 2 job.
Huntley is entrenched as the starter. And as Saturday’s showing illustrated, true freshman Jack Tuttle will have to battle redshirt freshman Jason Shelley for the backup position in preseason practice. That’s not unreasonable, due to Tuttle’s lack of experience at this level, and mildly surprising, considering how his high school credentials in southern California suggested he may push Huntley for the starting job.
That didn’t happen this spring, a credit to Huntley’s improvement and a bit of reality in Tuttle’s joining a college football program at this stage.
Playing full-time in the first half for the White (the Red won 25-23), Tuttle completed 8 of 14 passes for 86 yards with two interceptions. He labeled the event “another experience I need to grow and get better from.”
Tuttle’s ability and maturity someday will make him a star for the Utes. Saturday was not that day, although he showed signs of the skills that made him so highly recruited. Watching him stand in the pocket and deliver the football reminded me of seeing Alex Smith in practice as a San Francisco 49ers rookie. Everything about his game looked good — except for some of the results.
The interceptions? “Both of ’em were my fault,” he said. The first came when he raised his throwing trajectory over the linemen in front of him and the ball sailed high and into the arms of defensive back Javelin Guidry. The second resulted from Tuttle’s trying to bite off too much, as his pass into coverage was picked off by Terrell Burgess, with the White approaching field-goal range at the end of the half.
The next step? “Just growing and learning from it,” Tuttle said. “I promise you, I’m going to get better.”
That’s what Huntley did this spring, by his and Taylor’s account. The coaching staff held out a couple of dozen players Saturday (including several who missed the entire spring), while giving Huntley three drives. The junior QB completed 6 of 12 passes for 72 yards and one touchdown. Taylor even liked some of the incompletions, as Huntley was willing to throw the ball away.
“Tyler’s had an exceptional spring,” Taylor said.
Tuttle “made some nice throws,” Taylor said, “[and] he had a couple that he would probably like back. He’ll learn from that.”
Shelley finished strong, going 11 of 14 for 85 yards and a touchdown. His 7-yard toss to Batchlor Johnson and 2-point pass to Jameson Field gave the Red a 22-15 lead with 2:45 remaining. The White answered with No. 4 quarterback Drew Lisk’s 12-yard TD pass to Samson Nacua and a 2-point toss to Jaylen Dixon to make it 23-22 with 33 seconds left.
But the White team stormed off the sideline too soon, drawing an excessive-celebration penalty. That gave the Red the ball at midfield, and Shelley’s two completions moved the team into position for Gay’s winning field goal.
The 57-yarder was a yard longer than his best last season, when he won the Lou Groza Award as the country’s best kicker.
Tuttle, as we know, was in high school then. That point was driven home Saturday, when he showed why the Utes were so thrilled to get him, and why he still has improvement to make.