View from the Booth: Utah football: Utes' progress stalled by marginal quarterback play

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 9 2012 7:57 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — This week marks the halfway point of the 2012 season for the Utah football team. The Utes approach their official midway point with a date in the Rose Bowl against UCLA. Utah's only wins of the season have come against an overmatched Northern Colorado team in the opener and a close win over BYU in the rivalry game.

What's become very apparent during the Utes' second year as a member of the Pac-12 is that the transition from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 is steeper and more difficult than most fans and some media members expected.

What's become most apparent, and I'm not breaking any new ground here, is the difference in play at the quarterback position between Utah and just about every other team in the Pac-12. A Pac-12-caliber QB can help hide a multitude of offensive sins for a football team.

There is no better example of this than the team that the Utes will face Saturday, the UCLA Bruins. Despite the fact UCLA sits in the heart of one of the most fertile quarterback areas in the country, the Bruins have struggled mightily for the better part of the last decade to find a "franchise" field general.

It's been 13 seasons since UCLA, once considered a quarterback factory, has had a QB drafted into the NFL. But it looks like this season the winds of quarterback change are blowing in Westwood.

Redshirt freshman Brett Hundley has thrown for 1,733 yards, completing 66 percent of his passes while throwing for 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Hundley has thrown for more than 200 yards in all six games and has eclipsed the 300-yard mark in three of those contests.

Compare those numbers to the Utes' production at quarterback, which has just one 200-yard passing game in its last 15 games — and that was 200 yards by Jordan Wynn against I-AA cellar-dweller Northern Colorado.

There is no doubting the effort displayed by now-starting QB Jon Hays. He's well-liked and about as tough as they come when it comes to taking a hit. But there's also no denying the fact that in his 12 games as a starter, Hays has yet to reach the 200-yard mark. When you think about it, that stat is downright amazing in today's college football game.

The point is, although many observers may believe there are major issues with this edition of Utah football, there really aren't. Utah might not have the overall-caliber athlete of a USC or an Oregon, but its roster 1 through 85 isn't markedly different than an Arizona, California or even UCLA.

What's really separating the Utes from many comparable Pac-12 programs right now is quarterback play. The good news on that front is that true freshman Travis Wilson has made tremendous progress and his role in Brian Johnson's offense will only grow. Wilson is the future of the Utah program at quarterback; the only real question is when will that future begin? That answer is really up to three people: Kyle Whittingham, Brian Johnson and Travis Wilson.

I have a sense that as soon as Wilson has the same grasp on the offense that Hays does, the job will be his. Wilson's athleticism and arm lend themselves perfectly to the spread offense that Johnson has re-installed and that Whittingham said Utah will maintain.

And as we have seen around the Pac-12 this season, with the right guy running the offensive show, a team's fortunes can change quickly.

Bill Riley is the co-host of the Bill and Hans Show weekdays from 2-6 p.m on ESPN 700 AM. You can follow Bill on Twitter @espn700bill.

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