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Quarterback Charlie Brewer leaves Utah football team

The Baylor transfer was benched in the Utes’ loss to San Diego State

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer (12) as the Utah Utes host the Weber State Wildcats in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

Charlie Brewer came with lofty expectations.

He left before fulfilling even the most reasonable of them.

The quarterback lasted just shy of 11 quarters as a Ute before suddenly leaving the University of Utah football team this week. Brewer beat Weber State, lost at BYU, and was benched in favor of backup Cam Rising at San Diego State.

An athletic department spokesperson told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday morning that Brewer was no longer on the roster. His departure came less than three days after the benching and now means Rising is set to start Saturday afternoon versus Washington State (12:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).

Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said late-Tuesday afternoon after a normal fully-padded practice that Brewer came to him Monday with his desire to move on. Brewer slept on it, then went to Whittingham again Tuesday morning to confirm his plans. Brewer was present Monday afternoon for the typical team walkthrough at the Eccles Field House.

Phone calls to Brewer’s family seeking comment went unreturned Tuesday.

“Absolutely, you always do,” Whittingham said when asked if he presented Brewer with the pros and cons of his decision. “You give them advice, tell them the way you see it and he felt it was in his best interest to get to a new place.”

Brewer’s name was not in the NCAA Transfer Portal as of midday Tuesday. The Austin, Texas, native should still have one year of eligibility remaining as he will have only played three games this season. NCAA guidelines state that a player can play in up to four games and still take a redshirt for that given season.

Brewer was benched Saturday night against the Aztecs in favor of Rising with 5:24 to go in the third quarter after seven of the 10 drives he presided over ended in punts, plus a crushing interception by Tayler Hawkins on a pass Brewer badly telegraphed. Hawkins returned it to the Utah 7-yard line, Greg Bell ran the ball in on the next play for his second touchdown in a 42-second span, and the Aztecs, who beat Arizona last week, took a 24-10 lead with 10:42 left in the third quarter.

Rising came in with 5:24 left in the third quarter and engineered two-fourth quarter touchdown drives, including the tying score with 16 seconds left. He ended the night 19 for 32 for 153 yards and three touchdown passes in a 33-31 triple-overtime loss.

When a new depth chart was released on Tuesday morning, Rising was listed as the starter, second-year freshman Ja’Quinden Jackson was listed as the backup, and Brewer was no longer on the roster. Second-year walk-on freshman Bryson Barnes will continue as the third-string quarterback.

When Brewer committed on Dec. 20 as a graduate transfer with one season left to play, he did so with a monstrous pedigree thanks to 9,700 career passing yards, over 10,000 total yards, a Big 12 championship game in 2019, and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

At the time, Utah’s quarterback position was very much in flux, so Brewer, with a resume befitting a high-level Power Five starter, arrived as the presumed early favorite to start. That presumption was based on a few things: One, while Rising won the job out of fall camp in 2020, he faced a long rehab after suffering a season-ending throwing shoulder in the opener. Jake Bentley was ineffective in place of Rising and was expected to hit the transfer portal, Drew Lisk was not going to take advantage of a sixth year available to him, and incoming four-star quarterback Peter Costelli was, at the time, a wild card at best.

Brewer worked his way through the winter and spring, drawing effusive praise from Whittingham all the way through. His 15-for-15, 151-yard, two-touchdown showing in the April 17 spring game only amplified the notion that Brewer was going to wind up starting the Sept. 2 opener vs. Weber State. Whittingham, though, worked to throw cold water on that notion, saying multiple times that Rising was expected to be healthy in time for fall camp, at which point there would be a legitimate quarterback competition.

Rising was indeed healthy in time for camp. While Brewer did wind up winning the job, every indication publicly and behind the scenes was that Rising made it tough on Brewer and the coaching staff, while stamping himself as a more-than-capable backup.

“It’s who gives you the best chance,” Whittingham said. “When we made the decision to start Charlie, I had told everybody all fall camp that it was neck-and-neck, it was that close. It was the experience that Charlie brought to the table that was really the difference maker.”

Brewer had not played well in three games, but in fairness, all of the blame does not belong to him. The offensive line has been porous too much of the time, getting severely outplayed by BYU, then struggling against San Diego State. There were times Brewer did not have three seconds to make a decision, but on the flip side of that, when the offensive line did its job and Brewer did have sufficient time, he held the ball for too long and looked overwhelmed in the pocket.

There were enough problems, enough empty drives, enough fear that the season was teetering, enough belief in Rising that the change was made at San Diego State. Even if Brewer had stuck around, Rising’s fourth quarter and overtime against the Aztecs was an impressive job interview. The job belongs to Rising, so now what?

The offense was noticeably more uptempo under Rising, Britain Covey came to life with six of his eight catches on the night coming from Rising, and the offensive line played with more juice, more ferocity. The fact that Whittingham appears to have settled on a core offensive line could be a major benefit moving forward.

Lost in the shuffle of the QB situation, the depth chart lists left tackle Jaren Kump, left guard Keaton Bills, center Nick Ford, right guard Sataoa Laumea and right tackle Braeden Daniels as the starters. The big change there is Daniels, the usual starter at left guard, kicking over to right tackle, with Bills, who played extensively at San Diego State, stepping up into the starting left tackle spot.

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