Utes QB Bryson Barnes went from hospital to starting again in two weeks

Utah’s junior quarterback rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown in the win over Cal.

(James Roh | Special to The Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Bryson Barnes (16) runs for a touchdown against California Golden Bears during the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

Two weeks ago, Bryson Barnes lay in a hospital bed recovering from bruised ribs he sustained after a hard tackle against Oregon State.

But on Saturday afternoon in Utah’s 34-14 win over Cal, Barnes was back on the field, leading a Utes offense that looked formidable for once, and racking up 50 rushing yards while throwing 15 for 21 for 128 yards passing.

“He’s a tough guy,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Bryson Barnes is a throwback. If he’s able to play at all, he’s going to be out there.”

Barnes returned to the lineup after spending the past two weeks nursing his bruised ribs. He didn’t practice at all during the bye week, but was healthy enough to take reps as the No. 1 quarterback in the days leading up to Cal.

“I wasn’t expecting to be back as soon as I was,” Barnes said. “But you have to stay in that training room, make sure you’re getting right with your trainers, and I was able to get back within the week.”

Barnes showed remarkable agility for someone who had an injury Whittingham described as “not pleasant” that “can be very painful.” The junior quarterback was able to scramble out of the pocket and make plays out of nothing — whether that was picking up some much-needed yards on the run or throwing a 41-yard bomb to Munir McClain in the third quarter.

“That’s always a huge plus when your quarterback can extend plays,” Whittingham said. “Bryson, even though he’s not the fastest guy, he’s very crafty and can maneuver in the pocket and has a feel for where they openings are, where they’re going to be. To have a quarterback that can, when nothing is there in the throw game, rather than taking a sack, get out of there and get you 5, 10, 15 yards — that’s a big difference and really a problem for defensive coordinators.”

Barnes led an attack that racked up 445 yards of total offense — a season high. What changed in the last few weeks that helped the offense improve so much?

“I mean, my ribs feel better,” Barnes quipped.

Whittingham said redshirt freshman Nate Johnson was the No. 2 quarterback Saturday but was not part of the team’s game plan against Cal. Senior Cam Rising, meanwhile, is still out of the lineup, and it appears he may not return anytime soon, according to recent comments made by his surgeon to The Athletic.

Utah next travels to Los Angeles for a matchup with the No. 10-ranked Trojans.