Utah searching for answers at QB after offensive struggles
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah pass offense has reverted to its average ways from previous years since starting quarterback Tyler Huntley went down six quarters ago.
The regression now has coach Kyle Whittingham considering other options, including No. 3 quarterback Cooper Bateman.
There’s still no update on when Huntley will be able to return from injury. He went down in the second quarter against Arizona on Sept. 22 and returned to the bench with his throwing arm in a sling. The dynamic sophomore was on the field in street clothes during the 23-20 loss to Stanford on Saturday. The Utes do not typically discuss injuries unless they are season-ending.
Utah normally brings its scheduled starting quarterback to Whittingham’s news conference on Monday, and Troy Williams was there this week. But Whittingham said Bateman, a transfer from Alabama, will get a look in practice.
Whittingham said he’s looking for “quarterbacks going through the progression. Putting the ball in the right spots. Making the right reads. Taking care of the football. Tyler’s status is still up in the air. If he is not able, we’ll be sure to give both guys a shot between Troy and Cooper and see who comes away with it.”
The Utes’ numbers have dropped in every significant offensive category since before the Arizona game — rush offense, pass offense, pass efficiency offense, total offense, scoring offense. The opposition has been better since Pac-12 play began, but the offense clearly looks different without Huntley.
The first-year starting quarterback was heavily involved in the running game due to his athletic ability and was the team’s leading rusher before the Arizona game. Utah has eliminated many of those called quarterback runs in the last six quarters. Huntley also has a 73.3 completion percentage, No. 2 in the nation.
The Utes simply haven’t had the same big-play ability with Huntley on the sideline.
“Not really because that’s one of (Huntley’s) strong suits,” Whittingham said. “Running the football and making people miss and (being) very good in the open field. That’s not as strong a suit for Troy and definitely not as strong a suit for Cooper.”
Huntley and receiver Darren Carrington, who ranks No. 5 nationally with 116.8 yards per game, also had a quality connection that hasn’t been replicated by Williams. Carrington and Williams have a strong friendship, but that hasn’t translated into major production on the field. Carrington finished Saturday with seven receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown, but he was shut out in the first half.
Teams have begun to send more safety help in Carrington’s direction but his lack of involvement in the first 30 minutes against Stanford was glaring.
“We’ve got to throw the ball deep and take more shots down the field,” Carrington said. “You can’t replace Tyler. ... They’re three different quarterbacks. You can’t really replace what Tyler brings to the field. I feel like we shot ourselves in the foot this last game.”
The new fast-paced, spread offense was humming along through the first three games, but something has changed. The absence of Huntley changes what can be called, the offensive line play has been choppy and the run game has been inconsistent. Execution is a common talking point, but that can include a wide array of things.
Williams specified the need for better decision-making and for being more accountable. There were several missed opportunities to find open receivers and two fourth-quarter interceptions essentially ended the game.
Carrington said he couldn’t pinpoint the difference from the early success. “Maybe the change in the quarterback,” he said. “Maybe a little less confident. We’ve got to keep our confidence level and our swagger up. Honestly, we’re not playing up to our capability right now.”
Williams took the loss hard after eagerly awaiting his chance to start after losing the job to Huntley before the season. The senior captain started all 13 games for Utah last year and won nine. Saturday was his chance and now he’s back in competition with Bateman to remain the No. 2.
“I feel like I can play a lot better, that’s the bottom line,” Williams said. ”(Practice) has always been important regardless of what happens. Just stay the course. It’s football. You’re going to have your bad games. I just saw (Ben) Roethlisberger have one of the worst games of his career. Just have to keep grinding.”
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