Utah's starting quarterback Jon Hayes (9) looks to pass out of the backfield against Arizona during the first half of an NCAA college football game, in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/John Miller)
TUCSON, Ariz. — Utah wide receiver DeVonte Christopher offered a simple explanation for quarterback Jon Hays' improvement.
As Hays, the junior, has played more games, he has grown.
Hays matched his career high for yards passing with 199 and threw for two touchdowns in Utah's 34-21 victory over Arizona on Saturday. He found Christopher for a career-long 65-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, threw no interceptions and completed 12 of his 21 passes.
"You can just tell, things are just starting to slow down for him more and more," Christopher said. "The more time he gets in the game and the more he plays, the better and better he gets in my opinion."
Hays improved to 3-2 as Utah's starting quarterback. He took over the offense after third-year starter Jordan Wynn injured his shoulder Oct. 1 against Washington. Hays has thrown for four of his seven touchdowns in his last two games, and he has avoided being intercepted in three of his last four games.
"(I'm) just starting to feel more comfortable with the offense," Hays said.
He's also moving past his three-interception performance Oct. 22 against Cal.
"It was rough after the Cal game, definitely," Hays said. "After these last two wins, wins cure everything. Definitely feeling good after this one."
Hays' performance allowed the Utes (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) to have a more balanced offense. Utah was able to move the ball with its passing game rather than relying heavily on running back John White IV, who entered the game rushing for 114.4 yards per game. Arizona prepared to defend Utah's run game, loading the box and going man-on-man on the corners, and the Utes took advantage of one-on-one match-ups with its passing game.
"We've been able to run the ball pretty good all season," Christopher said. "It was mostly just being able to throw the ball on top and soften up the defense, and that definitely helped."
White still finished with a strong game, rushing for a game-high 109 yards on 27 carries, scoring two touchdowns and surpassing 1,000 yards rushing for the season. But the Utes were able to keep the Arizona defense honest.
Christopher, who missed two games with an ankle injury, finished with a team-high 79 yards receiving. Reggie Dunn caught three passes for 64 yards. Utah took a 27-7 lead early in the third quarter on Hays' 44-yard touchdown strike to Dunn, capping a 92-yard drive.
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Hays also led the Utes on a scoring drive to end the first half. He threw a 10-yard pass and a 21-yard pass during the drive, leading to Utah's 35-yard field goal for a 20-7 halftime lead.
"He's more confident. He's making better decisions. He's not forcing the ball into coverage, just all those things you hope would happen in a natural progression and maturation of a quarterback," coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Calling the quarterback's performance "incredible," White said Hays' hard work has paid off. He has spent hours in the film room.
"He's confident, and he's more patient," White said.