SALT LAKE CITY — If you've played prep football, or even Saturdays at the park, the Utes could have a place for you.
How does quarterback sound?
They say the biggest competition is always at the glamor positions. Not at Utah. Seven games into the season, it's no secret the Utes have a QB crisis on their hands. For now, they're filling the position on a rent-to-own basis.
Starter Jordan Wynn was coming off an injury in August, but even then things looked a bit shaky. The coaches were hoping the offensive line could keep him untouched. But Wynn got injured midway through the season's fourth game and he isn't coming back.
That left them with Jon Hays, who got just one more Division I offer than SpongeBob SquarePants. Utah was the only major school that recruited him from Butte Community College. Now he's in deep, playing in the Pac-12, and you know the script. The Utes are as ugly as a landfill, ranking 108th in total offense. They gained just 178 yards against Cal on Saturday.
This isn't entirely Hays' fault. He had a ticket to Nebraska-Omaha and got rerouted to Salt Lake. In the original scenario, he was only needed to vacuum up the crumbs after the Saturday matinee. But that was before Wynn went down. Since then, the offensive line has been antsy and erratic. The blocking has been unreliable, in part because the line has injury issues of its own. Teams are now prepping to stop Utah's running game and daring Hays to beat them through the air.
And the Utes have few ways of moving the ball.
If you're wondering if there was a recruiting breakdown, there was — though not through sheer incompetence. They had a verbal commitment from Derrick Brown, a highly regarded prep quarterback from Vista Murrietta, Calif., but he reversed field a couple of weeks into recruiting season, instead choosing Washington. That put the Utes on thin ice to start. They next went for Michael Eubank, a 6-5 QB from Corona, Calif., whom they had recruited but not as heavily as Brown. When Eubank announced on signing day that he was going to Arizona State, Plan B went up in smoke.
Still, the Utes had Wynn, with Hays the backup and Tyler Shreve to follow, the latter two having strong arms but zero Division I experience. Utah moved Griff Robles, the current No. 2 quarterback, to linebacker and redshirted Shreve. But once Wynn dropped, they moved Hays up and Robles back under center.
Adam Schulz, a walk-on, is now the No. 3 option.
Now fans, if not coaches, are looking at all the options. But to date, the picture hasn't changed. DeVonte Christopher was an all-conference quarterback in high school, but he's also Utah's best receiver, so there went that. Safety/linebacker Brian Blechen also played quarterback in high school but has gone on to star on defense.
In hindsight, the coaches ended up looking short-sighted. Wynn's history of injuries stretches back a couple of years. At the same time, there are only so many quarterbacks who will sign with the same program.
Either way, the experience has made the Utes more wary.
"You have to do what's best for your program and you can't make promises that allow the recruits to hold you hostage," said recruiting coordinator Morgan Scalley.
Wynn will be back next year, though it's hard to imagine him making it through another season undamaged. They have verbal commitments from Travis Wilson, a 6-foot-6 prospect from San Clemente, Calif., and Chase Hansen, enjoying a phenomenal year at Lone Peak High in Alpine. Both were recruited by other Pac-12 teams. So the Utes should have a nice complement of quarterbacks.
But that's what they thought last year until the paint started to peel.
Meanwhile, there is no painless way out of this season. The defense might keep them in games, or opponents might forget to key on running back John White, but don't plan on it. More likely the Utes will continue to lose.
For now, the Utes say they're sticking with Hays. He has a strong arm, a good attitude and he appears durable. He has said all along that all he wanted was a fighting chance.
Unfortunately for the Utes, they don't seem to have that option.
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