The only Utah quarterback certainty? ‘You’ll see Nate Johnson no matter what’

While the Utes coach declined to provide any status update on Cam Rising, he did note that even if Johnson doesn’t wind up starting — which he might — the team will definitely play him vs. Florida.

(Utah Athletics) Quarterback Nate Johnson competes for the Utes' backup quarterback job in spring practice. With the team's QB situation in flux ahead of Thursday's opener, there is only one promise being made by Utah's coaches: Johnson will see playing time in some form or fashion.

In his final preseason address to the media on Monday morning, Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham kept the intrigue going about who will be starting at quarterback in Thursday’s season opener vs. Florida.

Will Cam Rising be available in his comeback from ACL surgery? Will junior walk-on Bryson Barnes get the nod if Rising isn’t ready to go?

Actually, Whittingham did commit Monday to playing one specific quarterback against the Gators, but it wasn’t either of those prior two.

“You’ll see Nate Johnson in this game no matter what happens,” Whittingham said.

The redshirt freshman appeared in four games for the Utes last season, throwing just one pass (a 16-yard touchdown against Stanford), while rushing five times for 51 yards and two TDs (both in his electric debut, against Arizona). He also had one catch for five yards in the Pac-12 championship victory over USC.

Though Whittingham said a few weeks ago that if the season had started that day, Barnes would be the QB, he added a week ago that Barnes and Johnson were now “neck and neck,” and in “a dead heat.”

Though the team’s first depth chart came out this weekend with Rising as QB1 and Barnes as QB2, Whittingham elaborated during Monday’s media session that “a lot of that’s still in flux today.”

He would not give any update on the depth chart, and declined to answer a question about whether Rising had been fully cleared for practice after being a limited participant thus far.

Still, he went out of his way to praise the progress that Johnson has made since getting extra reps in the wake of Brandon Rose’s injury.

“It’s very close. Nate has really closed the gap,” Whittingham said. “You’ve got to weigh everything. You’ve got Barnes, who won the Washington State game, performed very well in the Ohio State game when he went in. Nate has done well in the limited reps that he’s got, but it hasn’t been extensive. So there’s been a lot of — I don’t want to say guesswork, but you’ve got to project him.”

The coach did concede that the game plan would change “fairly significantly” depending on who the QB is, noting that the differences between the skillsets of Barnes and Johnson, in particular, are “very dramatic.”

Still, after joking last week that he he might wait until 10 minutes before kickoff to name a starter, Whittingham walked that back a bit, bringing up the situation a year ago where Barnes found out less than an hour before the beginning of the Washington State game that he’d be under center.

“I don’t think it’ll be that dramatic and that much of a time crunch,” Whittingham said Monday. “But he doesn’t know right now because we don’t know.”