Utah football: Quarterback Jon Hays is primed to make his first start for Utes
SALT LAKE CITY — There's no quarterback controversy at the University of Utah, at least not at this time.
With starter Jordan Wynn sidelined by an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, backup Jon Hays moves up to the top spot. He's expected to make his first career start for the Utes on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium against Arizona State.
"Jon will be the No. 1 guy," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham confirmed at his weekly press conference Monday afternoon.
Although Wynn was still being evaluated by the medical staff at the time, Whittingham told reporters it was "very, very doubtful" that the junior would be able to play anytime soon.
A couple of hours later, it was confirmed in a statement from the Utah sports information office — noting that the preliminary medical report on Wynn revealed that he'll be sidelined for at least 2-3 weeks with a left shoulder injury before a re-evaluation will take place.
Wynn, who had surgery on his other shoulder in December, suffered the latest injury late in the first half of Saturday's 31-14 loss to Washington. He did not return after the intermission.
Hays took over and wound up completing 10-of-16 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. He also turned the ball over twice.
"I thought he came in and did some good things," Whittingham said. "He did throw an interception and he was loose with the ball in the pocket, but he made some good throws. I thought he showed a lot of poise on a lot of plays."
Whittingham added that there were a lot of positives in the junior college transfer's most extensive action with the Utes. Hays entered the game with one career pass attempt at Utah, an incompletion in the Utes' 54-10 rout of BYU.
This time around, though, the offensive game plan will be tweaked to implement things that Hays does well like running the ball and playing out of shotgun and spread formations.
"We've got to change some things," Whittingham acknowledged. "You've got to play to your quarterback's strengths and do what he does best."
The offensive coaching staff, he added, is busy working things out.
"We're exploring all options," Whittingham said. "We've got to look at every possible way to move the football and generate some offense."
The avenues being explored, he noted, may include a "wildcat" type of thing. Other options include wide receiver DeVonte Christopher and linebacker Griff Robles, who are former quarterbacks in the program.
Hays, however, now tops the depth chart. Whittingham is impressed with the junior college transfer's work habits, work ethic, attitude and competitiveness.
So, too, are his teammates. They're confident Hays can lead them to victories in Wynn's absence.
"Definitely. He wouldn't be here if we didn't feel like that we could," said fullback Luke Matthews. "So him being here is a sign that we faith in him and we have full confidence."
Hays, he continued, has gotten the offensive rhythm down through the summer and then through workouts since. Matthews said the change from No. 2 to No. 1 will likely be a slight change, but nothing too bad.
"I think he's got that connection with all of us — where he connects with us and we feel comfortable with him," said tight end Dallin Rogers, who considers that huge for a quarterback. "I'm confident in his ability and in his arm. I'm confident with what he can do."
In that regard, Rogers explained, Hays and Wynn have a lot in common.
"I think they're both great quarterbacks," he said. "I think Jordan is a phenomenal leader. He's a tremendous worker. I think Jon shares similar attributes."
Hays took a less conventional path to Utah. After quarterbacking California's Butte College to a 9-2 record and a bowl victory, he signed with Nebraska-Omaha. The Division II program, though, opted to drop football last spring — leaving Hays on the outside looking in. The Utes, meanwhile, lost a couple of quarterback recruiting battles down the stretch and decided to move Robles to linebacker.
The two sides eventually came together. Whittingham and his staff have a good relationship with the Butte program, which sent Brett Ratliff to Utah and includes Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers amongst its alumni.
Hays joined the Utes in time for summer conditioning, where Wynn helped bring him up to speed.
"Jordan is a great guy and he's been great ever since I got here," Hays said during camp.
Although excited to join the Pac-12 program, Hays admitted it was initially frustrating because he got a little overwhelmed. While learning the offense, he was thinking more than reacting.
"I've just got to keep working hard and get things done when I need to," Hays said. "That's how I've got to approach it, with my work ethic and in the film room and doing everything right off the field. So that when I get on the field, my teammates can trust me."
True freshman Tyler Shreve, who the Utes had hoped to redshirt this season, is slated to be Hays' backup.
Arizona State (4-1, 2-0) at Utah (2-2, 0-2)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: 700 AM
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