Red All Over: Ute QB Tyler Huntley played way better than you may have thought

Pro Football Focus gave the quarterback a high grade, factoring in drops by the receivers.

Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) throws a pass against the NIU Huskies during a college football game at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, IL on Saturday, Sept. 08, 2018 (Sean King | for The Salt Lake Tribune)

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Anyone who watched Utah’s 17-6 victory at Northern Illinois would have said Ute linebacker Chase Hansen played a phenomenal game. Experts agreed, naming Hansen the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week and the national winner of the Bednarik Award’s weekly honor for defensive players.

Anecdotally, fans were far less approving of quarterback Tyler Huntley’s performance. And yet, experts disagreed. Pro Football Focus' analysis of Huntley’s passing ranked him No. 2 among Pac-12 quarterbacks last weekend.

Huntley benefitted from having receiver Britain Covey turn a short pass into a 48-yard gain in the fourth quarter. That bonus yardage is offset by passes the Ute receivers dropped — four, by offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s conservative count — on a night when Huntley went 20 of 31 for 286 yards.

Huntley could have avoided one or more of the six sacks the Utes allowed, coaches said, and he missed badly on one third-down throw. Even so, Pro Football Focus gave him an 84.9 grade on passing plays, a number topped only by Oregon State’s Conor Blount. And Blount was facing FCS member Southern Utah.

The summary is that Huntley will have to play well for the Utes to have a chance against No. 10 Washington on Saturday night, and he’ll need more help from his receivers. “A lot of it is just confidence,” Covey said. “You’ll see guys drop a ball in a game, and they never drop a ball in practice. So it’s not their hands; it’s their minds. It’s their confidence. … Catching the ball is more mental than it is physical. So screaming at a player for not catching a ball is not going to help them catch the next ball.”

Hall of Famers

Former Ute running back Mike Anderson is among six athletes who will be inducted into the Crimson Club Hall of Fame on Friday. Anderson rushed for 2,150 yards in his two-year Utah career and went on to become the 2000 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year for Denver. The honorees also will be recognized at halftime of Saturday's game. Anderson is joined by Amanda Feigt (soccer), Ashley Postell (gymnastics), Kim Smith (women's basketball), Mike Sojourner (men's basketball) and Ron Steele (skiing).

The big stories

The Ute offense naturally has been big subject this week, after producing only 10 points at NIU. This week happened to mark one of Taylor’s two in-season sessions with the media, and he explained the tricky play-calling balance of giving Zack Moss enough carries while trying to create big plays in the passing game. (TRIB)

Tribune columnist Gordon Monson pointed out the offense-defense imbalance is a frustrating, continuing thread of the Ute football program. (TRIB)

Having attended my first Ute football game in 1965 (while cheering for the visiting Montana Grizzlies), I’ve marveled about how student support for the Utes has grown in this century. The Rice-Eccles Stadium atmosphere impresses just about everyone who experiences it. Yet even Whittingham was surprised to learn his team has a losing record in home conference games in the Pac-12 era. (TRIB)

The Utes' performance through two games against FCS member Weber State and Group of Five member Northern Illinois has failed to impress some observers. Some bowl projections even fail to list the Utes. Yet in the eyes of SB Nation, Utah’s stock has gone up markedly. (SBN)

And here’s how a Husky fan site views the matchup with Utah. (SBN)

What’s up with the radio show?

While I almost always respond directly to questions about the Utes via Twitter, I’ll use this forum to address topics that fans submit. Some have wondered why coach Kyle Whittingham’s Tuesday radio show has moved to the campus from a Smith’s location, where fans could attend.

The explanation from Utah Athletics is the media room at the football complex is better suited for digital production. That enables “more fans to engage with the program, while keeping the traditional radio format,” said Ann Argust, associate athletic director for marketing/branding.

Utes in the NFL

Former Ute pass-rushing star Nate Orchard, waived by Cleveland in August, signed this week with Buffalo, joining former teammate Star Lotulelei as a Bills defensive lineman. That gives Utah 15 alumni on NFL active rosters.

Washington quarterback Alex Smith was the opening week’s star. Smith completed 21 of 30 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions in his debut with the team, a 24-6 victory at Arizona.

Other sports

Utah's No. 24 volleyball team faces a big test Thursday night at No. 1 BYU. The Utes (7-2) went 2-1 in Villanova's tournament last weekend in Philadelphia, losing to the host Wildcats in five sets, then beating Temple and High Point.

The Ute soccer team hosts Oklahoma on Thursday, during a busy stretch. Utah lost 3-2 to BYU last Friday after rallying to tie the game, then beat Utah State 3-0 on Monday in Logan in a rescheduled game. The Utes (2-3-1) also will host Nevada on Sunday afternoon.

Paola van der Veen and Hailey Skolmoski are tied for the team lead with three goals and one assist.