Tyler Huntley shines but Utah looking for more from offense
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley put on a one-man show in a six-point win over rival BYU but there are some long-term concerns about the inherent risks when he keeps the ball and the overall status of the running game.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore has done everything but block and catch for the Utes and his 343.0 yards of total offense per game rank No. 14 in the nation. Huntley has been a dynamic playmaker and his 159 rushing yards lead the team and rank No. 7 in the Pac-12.
Outside of Huntley, however, the running game struggled last week, which could leave Utah in a precarious situation. The Utes love that Huntley is so adept at running the ball, but 37 carries in two weeks is more than any running back on the roster.
“Probably a little heavy as far as how many carries he had,” coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. “But the true dual-threats in the country, the Louisville kid and the quarterbacks that are the same style as Tyler, that’s just how it is. He’s in charge of the offense and he’s going to be a big part of the run game each week. We just need to supplement some of that run game with the running backs a little bit better.”
The running back position has been in flux. Junior Armand Shyne remains out with an injury to his left arm, and he was competing for the starting job during fall camp. Sophomore Zack Moss won the job and shined with 128 rushing yards and a touchdown in the season opener but managed just 21 yards on 11 carries against BYU on Saturday.
Senior Jordan Howard began the season as the No. 2 back, but junior Troy McCormick has been bumped up this week after a strong outing against BYU. Coaches like his speed and big-play ability.
Sophomore Devonta’e Henry-Cole was thought to be the No. 3 during camp but has yet to have a carry. Utah does not typically discuss non-season-ending injuries, but Whittingham mentioned last week that Henry-Cole was dealing with a physical issue.
Many of the calls give Huntley the option to run — on both pass and running plays — but Whittingham said they may need more pure running back calls.
“But (offensive coordinator) Troy Taylor is going to call what’s working,” Whittingham said. “If we’re going to give the ball to the backs, they have to run with more violence and be more productive. They were in Week 1. We didn’t get that production in Week 2.”
Part of the concern stems from the aggressive way Huntley runs. He doesn’t hesitate to put his shoulder down despite his slight build. Huntley is fast and shifty enough to avoid most of the direct blows but there are times he doesn’t shy from contact.
The Utes quarterback has completed 73.5 percent of his passes and scored four touchdowns, including three on the ground, so things are going better than expected for a young signal-caller in a new scheme.
Huntley’s not worried about injuries, but understands he has to be cognizant of how he absorbs the blows. Some of those rushes come from scrambling out of the pocket when things break down with defenders covering downfield, so it’s not the same physical danger as running between the tackles.
“It’s just like you have to make a play, so I just use my legs,” Huntley said. “It’s not too much of just give the ball to Tyler Huntley. It’s not like that. It’s just more of the way the defense is set up and the situations that come up. It’s always hard to make a decision in a split-second because you have to count on 10 other people on the field, including the defense. ... You’ve just got to trust (the offense).”
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