Statistically, the opening game of Tyler Huntley’s junior season became better over the weekend when the Utah quarterback was credited with a shovel pass — originally ruled a handoff — that receiver Britain Covey turned into a 26-yard gain in Thursday’s 41-10 win over Weber State.
Redshirt freshman Jason Shelley earned an endorsement from coach Kyle Whittingham for his work in the fourth quarter, when he likely became the only college QB ever to produce a 40-yard pass completion and a 40-yard run among his first seven career snaps.
Jack Tuttle stood on the sideline in a yellow vest, signaling plays.
That role is not uncommon for a true freshman, and nothing about Tuttle's career trajectory has been altered yet. This starting point as the No. 3 QB is the unlikely part of the story about Tuttle, though, considering what his recruitment meant to a Utah program that continually has searched for a top-tier quarterback.
This is probably not what anyone other than Shelley pictured happening, and not where Tuttle imagined himself being. Yet a quarterback who's known for being one of the last players to leave the practice field every day is maintaining a healthy view of his future, while doing what he's asked to do now.
He acknowledged “a weird feeling” about standing and watching other quarterbacks play, but “we won the game, so I did my job‚” Tuttle said Monday. “I felt like I was a good teammate; I was good [helping] Tyler. I got my first experience in a game-day atmosphere on the field. I think I’m confident, not nervous at all, just growing and getting more experience.”
As of six months ago, Tuttle's credentials suggested he may even beat out Huntley, after he graduated early from high school in California to enroll at Utah and participate in spring practice.
Even in April, when coaches declared a “dead heat” between Tuttle and Shelley for the backup job, that seemed mostly like a way of keeping both of them competing through the summer. But then Shelley was declared the winner of the competition (“just slightly edging out” Tuttle, Whittingham said) in advance of the game vs. Weber State, and he only enhanced his status by the way he played in two possessions.
So what happens now? Utah’s coaches hope to preserve Tuttle’s redshirt year, although a new NCAA rule would allow him to play in as many as four games and retain his season of eligibility. The calendar would project a duel for the starting job in 2020, when Shelley would be a junior and Tuttle a sophomore.
In an era when true freshmen quarterbacks are starting for USC, Nebraska and Minnesota, Tuttle's timetable is being decelerated in a gradual, five-year plan. “We'll have the season review when the season's over, but right now, I'm just focused on week by week,” Tuttle said.
That means getting some practice time with the No. 2 offense, although Shelley will be difficult to displace, judging by his performance Thursday. Shelley's first drive ended with a fumble, charged to running back Devin Brumfield after a botched exchange. The next trip led to a field goal. Each sequence included a 40-yard gain.
“He came in and showed a lot of poise, made great decisions,” Whittingham said during his weekly news conference.
Shelley “looked very athletic running the football,” Whittingham said. “He looked like a guy who had done that before, which he has in the past. That was his forte in high school.”
Shelley also showed he’s accurate with the deep ball, hitting receiver Jaylen Dixon. That was a snapshot of the old days in Texas for the former prep teammates — and the kind of pass that made Tuttle a sensational QB in California and such a valued recruit at Utah.
“I’m continually improving,” Tuttle said, waiting for his chance to prove it in a college football game.
In his college debut, Utah quarterback Jason Shelley accounted for 89 yards of total offense on four plays. 2-8, Utah 30 – Shelley pass complete to Jaylen Dixon for 40 yards. 1-10, Utah 18 – Shelley run for 9 yards. 1-10, Utah 39 – Shelley run for 40 yards. 3-4, Weber State 15 – Shelley pass complete to Siaosi Mariner for no gain.