Utah quarterback Jason Shelley led a fourth-quarter comeback, stiff-armed a BYU tackler on his way to the end zone and climbed into the stands to celebrate the victory.
That performance was only part of Shelley’s memorable November, coming after wins over Oregon and Colorado that completed the Utes’ first Pac-12 South championship. Then came a frustrating loss to Washington in the conference title game and a second-half collapse against Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl.
Shelley experienced a lifetime's worth of emotions in those five games, filling in for the injured Tyler Huntley and being voted the Male Rookie of the Year throughout Utah's athletic department in the Crimson Carpet Awards.
The ending was imperfect, but Shelley did enough good things as a redshirt freshman to make his father say of watching him play, “That teased me a little bit … I want more.”
The player whose given name is Jason Paul Shelley II is QB2 again this month, with Huntley as the re-established starter in his senior season. Who knows when Shelley will take the field in another meaningful moment?
“Sooner or later,” he said, “it’s going to be my time — maybe Week 2 or 2020, so you never know.”
That’s true. Last season’s example of Huntley’s broken collarbone is a reminder of the reality that a backup QB must stay ready, and Shelley is “having a heck of a camp,” offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. “He’s really developed his arm strength, he’s really putting good spin on the ball. … I also think he’s throwing with more confidence.”
Next spring, those throws will be scrutinized as Shelley competes with Texas transfer Cameron Rising, who’s redshirting this season, for the job that Huntley vacates. Jack Tuttle once had a place in the previous sentence, and that’s where Shelley’s 2018 story begins.
Shelley was a surprising winner over Tuttle for the No. 2 spot last August, a development that became more relevant in October and November. Tuttle left the program in midseason (later transferring to Indiana) and Shelley replaced Huntley, who was injured Nov. 3 at Arizona State.
Mix in running back Zack Moss’ knee injury, and Utah’s offense was in turmoil. Shelley responded remarkably well, starting a five-game sequence that almost seems fictional, with such adventurous outcomes.
Oregon: After the Utes fall behind 25-22 in the fourth quarter, Shelley completes three straight passes for 60 yards and ends the go-ahead drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Colorado: Playing in the snow and cold, the Texan accounts for 221 passing yards on only 11 completions as the Utes earn the Pac-12 South title.
BYU: Trailing 27-7 late in the third quarter, having scored only via an interception return, Utah mounts four straight touchdown drives, the last one covering 33 yards on Shelley’s run.
Washington: Facing his father’s old school, Shelley throws interceptions on three straight possessions in the second half. That includes the crazy play where he makes a nice pass, only to have the ball bounce of Ute receiver Siaosi Mariner’s hands and leg and be grabbed and returned 66 yards by Washington’s Byron Murphy for the game’s only touchdown in the Huskies’ 10-3 win.
Northwestern: Leading 20-3 at halftime, the Utes fail to score again in a 31-20 defeat as Shelley throws two interceptions and loses a fumble that’s returned for a touchdown, with Utah in scoring position.
Wow. That's a lot to process, and Shelley says he has learned from all of it. He'll remember how “it's fun being part of the reason why the team wins championships,” he said, and he knows he could have played better.
Yet his experience led SI.com to rank Utah behind only Clemson among “eight teams with the closest thing to quarterback depth in the transfer portal era.”
Shelley is learning from Ludwig and spent time at home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area this summer working with Kevin Murray, his quarterbacking trainer since seventh grade. Murray’s son, Kyler, is in the NFL as the No. 1 overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Kyler Murray is 5-10, slightly shorter than Shelley.
“I think they do have a lot of similarities in their games,” said Jason Shelley Sr.
His son is determined to push Huntley in camp and keep improving. “I've always had the mind-set,” Shelley II said, “that you've got to work, to play.”
Whenever that happens next.
Utah quarterback Jason Shelley's passing statistics as a starter in 2018:
Oregon: 18 of 31, 262 yards.
Colorado: 11 of 23, 221 yards, two touchdowns.
BYU: 19 of 28, 141 yards, one touchdown.
Washington: 17 of 27, 137 yards, three interceptions.
Northwestern: 27 of 45, 302 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions.