By unseating senior returning starter Troy Williams in 2017, Utah’s Tyler Huntley helped extend the trend of unsatisfying conclusions of the college careers of the state’s quarterbacks in this decade.
Will Huntley be the one who ends it?
Not since Matt Sauk of Utah State (1997), Brian Johnson of Utah (2008) and Max Hall of BYU (2009) has any FBS program’s QB produced a truly fulfilling senior year — judged as remaining healthy enough to start every game through the bowl season and departing with a high approval rating of the school’s fan base. Utah’s Travis Wilson came close in 2015. But a 3-3 finish of the regular season, with some disappointing offensive showings after the Utes were 6-0 and ranked No. 3, was a letdown.
Staying healthy would be an advancement for Huntley, who has missed eight games in two seasons with three separate injuries, including the broken collarbone that cost him the last five games of 2018. His last opportunity comes with a senior-heavy team and an offensive coordinator who’s promising to showcase his athletic ability.
“The ups and downs of the past years have really motivated me and made me learn more and [not] take any snap for granted,” Huntley said. Avoiding injury “would mean a lot for me and this team, just making sure I’m on the field for every game.”
That part is tricky. Running is a big part of Huntley’s game, via designed plays and scrambles. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig intends to have him roll out more, with his ability to throw on the move. The tradeoff for Huntley’s running is his exposure to hits. His injuries, though, have come within the pocket, including the hit he absorbed last November after releasing a pass at Arizona State, ending his season.
Ute coach Kyle Whittingham hopes Huntley's increased weight (205 pounds) will make him more durable. Huntley also can deliver the ball quicker, avoiding hits and sacks. His offseason preparation should help. Coaches are teammates describe a more committed, studious quarterback who knows this is his chance to make a lasting impression with NFL scouts and other observers.
“Absolutely, he has that urgency, that drive of a senior,” Ludwig said.
“You can definitely tell this year he's taking on a leadership role more than ever, which is good to see,” said No. 3 quarterback Drew Lisk. “He looks good. He looks sharp. He's on top of the plays. … He's grown schematically, just understanding defenses, understanding the playbook.”
That’s not to say that everything has gone ideally for Huntley this month, adapting to a third offensive scheme in four seasons. Yet his response to some tough moments has impressed receiver Britain Covey.
“I've seen him grow,” Covey said. “I've seen him handle adversity and handle criticism, because learning a new offense, you're never going to be perfect.”
Ludwig said Huntley's newfound ability to move on to the next play “shows some maturity as a football player.”
Utah doesn't need Huntley to play as well as he did last October; that would be expecting too much. In that month, as the Utes went 4-0 against Pac-12 opponents, he completed 73 percent of his passes for 879 yards and seven touchdowns, with two interceptions. He was far less effective in August/September, though, and was not sharp against Arizona State before being hurt in the third quarter.
Huntley went through Utah’s commencement in May with his Florida high school teammates, Ute running back Zack Moss and receiver Demari Simpkins. The school allowed them to do so, with the promise of completing their classwork in the fall quarter.
So academically and athletically, they have more to do, in hopes of a strong finish of their Utah tenures. What would Huntley have to do to be judged as the state’s most successful senior QB of this decade? The evaluation of his 2019 work begins Thursday in Provo, where Huntley led Utah past BYU 19-13 as a sophomore, having beaten out Williams in former offensive coordinator Troy Taylor’s first preseason camp.
Williams filled in for an injured Huntley in three games that season. He beat Colorado 34-13, making the Utes bowl eligible. But he missed a great opportunity in October, when he led a potential winning drive at USC, only to be tackled a yard short of the goal line on a 2-point conversion. While running, Williams failed to see a receiver open in the back of the end zone.
Even so, Williams produced a memorable ending of his career. Playing the last series of the Heart of Dallas Bowl, after Huntley had directed Utah to a 30-14 lead over West Virginia, Williams pretended to have a problem with his shoe, so Lisk could get into the game. His selfless, team-oriented gesture that makes him well remembered in the program.
Huntley would love to have his own signature moment, preferably in the Rose Bowl.
Since the success of Utah State's Matt Sauk (1997), Utah's Brian Johnson (2008) and BYU's Max Hall (2009), no senior quarterback for an FBS program in the state has enjoyed a fully satisfying season.
• Riley Jensen, 1998. Aggies lost to first seven FBS opponents.
• Jose Fuentes, 2002. QB racked up yards, but team went 4-7.
• Travis Cox, 2004. Coach Mick Dennehy was fired after a 3-8 year.
• Leon Jackson III, 2007. USU went 2-10.
• Diondre Borel, 2010. Aggies beat BYU, but finished 4-8.
• Chuckie Keeton, 2015. Shared QB job; USU ended with losses to BYU and Akron.
• Kent Myers, 2017. Lost job to Jordan Love at midseason.
• Terrance Cain, 2010. Lost 28-3 to Boise State as fill-in starter in Las Vegas Bowl.
• Jordan Wynn, 2012. Injured, retired from football in September.
• Jon Hays, 2012. Lost job to Travis Wilson in October after replacing Wynn.
• Travis Wilson, 2015. Second-winningest QB in school history, but went 3-3 in last six conference games.
• Troy Williams, 2017. Lost job to Tyler Huntley in preseason camp.
• Riley Nelson, 2012. Tried to play through injuries, unsuccessfully.
• James Lark, 2012. Kyle Van Noy scored more points than BYU’s offense in bowl game.
• Taysom Hill, 2016. Injury in last regular-season game was fourth season-ending injury of career.
• Tanner Mangum, 2018. Lost job to Zach Wilson in October.