Tyler Huntley is ‘one of the best quarterbacks in the country right now,’ Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah players prepare to take the field as the Utah Utes host the Washington State Cougars, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday Sept. 28, 2019.

This was Tyler Huntley, fully realized.

On Saturday night against Washington State, the version of Huntley that coach Kyle Whittingham, Utah fans, even Huntley himself imagined appeared in full force, leading the Utes’ offense to a dominating performance and a critical bounceback 38-13 win.

The stats tell some of the story. He threw 30 passes, completing 21 of them. Truthfully, there were four or five drops among those nine incompletions, including one that would have counted for a first-quarter touchdown. He successfully completed passes for two touchdowns. Without Zack Moss available, he found himself relied upon for red-zone rushing, and ran for two more scores.

And of course, there was the impressive total number of yards the Utes finished with: 526, their highest total since their 41-28 win over USC in 2018. Huntley threw for 334 of those, and had the Utes needed to throw the ball in the fourth quarter, he likely would have surpassed his personal best of 341 passing yards, set in that same USC matchup.

“We did a good job of taking every play at a time,” Huntley said. “There are a couple of drives we want to get back, but we kept progressing as the game went on.”

There was visual appeal to Huntley’s performance, too. When flushed out of the pocket, Huntley made plays happen, finding open receivers and keeping his eyes downfield, sometimes a sore spot in previous performances. Other times, he’d evade defenders by stepping up in the pocket, giving Samson Nacua, Bryan Thompson, Solomon Enis and the rest of the Utes’ receiving corps time to get open. That meant multiple long passing plays, accurately delivered by Huntley on the run.

Oh, and there was an important continuation of a trend: no mistakes. Huntley is still interception-free in the 2019 season, and “taking care of the ball" was the element of his performance he was most proud of, he told reporters after the game.

“I can tell you right now, he’s the team leader. He’s the leader of this football team. He’s doing things in practice that you want to see a quarterback do. He’s taking charge, he’s making sure guys are lined up right, doing right things, he’s just a field general,” Whittingham said. "He’s acting like a field general right now, which is what you want out of your quarterback.”

With Huntley at the helm, the Utes have usually been winning the field position battle. On this night, the Utes punted just once, on a run-only, fourth-quarter drive in which the ball was largely taken out of Huntley’s hands. Every other Utah drive ended up in Washington State territory, and five were touchdowns.

It was, in all, an eye-popping performance, and meant that Huntley received accolades from his effusive head coach.

“He’s playing, by far, his best football since he’s been a Ute,” Whittingham said. “He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country right now, in my opinion.”