TUCSON, Ariz. — The evolution of Jon Hays continued in Utah's 34-21 win over Arizona on Saturday.
For the second consecutive game, the junior quarterbacked the Utes to victory with two touchdown passes and no turnovers.
"I think he's more confident. He's making better decisions. He's not forcing the ball into coverage," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "So I would just say all those things that you hope would happen in the natural progression and maturation of a quarterback are happening. We need it to continue."
Hays matched his career-high with 199 yards passing against the Wildcats. The tally includes his longest touchdown throw — a 65-yard connection to DeVonte Christopher.
"Jon is feeling more comfortable week-by-week, which is what happens when you play a lot," Christopher said. "So he's getting more comfortable, we're getting more comfortable with him and that's the result."
Since replacing the injured Jordan Wynn in the second half of the Washington game on Oct. 1, Hays has had mixed results. His recent success, however, directly correlates to Utah's first two-game win streak of the season.
Before the triumphs over Oregon State and Arizona, Hays had completed 48-of-85 passes for 543 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked on 16 occasions and intercepted seven times.
Since then, the junior college transfer is 23-of-42 for 348 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He's been sacked only three times.
Utah quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson acknowledges that Hays is getting better. Even so, Johnson noted that he's still got a ways to go and has a lot of work to do.
The vast improvement, though, is proof that Hays has been willing to put in the time and make the necessary adjustments. His confidence is growing.
"It keeps getting better after each week, progress is the key," Hays said. "I'm just going to watch the tape and get better after tonight."
A task, he explained, made easier by those around him. Hays praised his receivers for being playmakers and burning off the line against Arizona — making his touchdown throws easy. He also noted that the offensive line did a great job.
And that's not all.
"Everybody did a great job on offense tonight," Hays said.
Entering this week's game against UCLA, there's a growing sense of optimism as Utah seeks to become bowl eligible. Running back John White IV said the Utes need to rally again and just execute.
Christopher noted that practice is paying off in that regard as Hays settles in as the starting quarterback. He's setting a positive tone.
"Jon Hays is a good dude," Christopher said. "He works hard and this is definitely a testament to his hard work out here."
It's part of a bigger picture since the Utes' 34-10 loss at Cal on Oct. 22, a plea for more "passion and energy."
Time will tell, Whittingham explained, if it makes a difference.
"Certainly in the last couple of weeks it's been a turning point," he said. "But we still have three games to go and we just need to keep playing the way we have been with a lot of emotion, a lot of passion and above all else, taking care of the football and creating takeaways with our defense."
Utes on the air
UCLA (5-4, 4-2) at Utah (5-4, 2-4)
Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
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