SALT LAKE CITY — A quarterback controversy may be brewing up on the hill.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that the competition between senior starter Jon Hays and backup Travis Wilson is "very close" as the Utes prepare for Saturday's game against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.
Wilson has closed the gap despite seeing limited action this season. The true freshman, who has completed 8-of-10 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown over five appearances, led the Utes on a late scoring drive in last week's 38-28 loss to USC.
"He's made strides every week since he got on campus, essentially. He's a guy that you will see play this week just like you have in every other ballgame," Whittingham said. "How much he plays is still being determined, but we're pleased with what he has done when he's got his opportunities."
Wilson acknowledged feeling more comfortable, calm and confident as his reps have increased.
"I feel like I'm definitely starting to get it," Wilson said. "I was glad I got that last couple of minutes in the USC game. I got to go in there and throw a little bit."
The former California prep star has maintained a resolve to always come out and compete.
"I'm always trying to push to get that starting job," Wilson said. "So I'm thankful I'm getting more reps now. I'm just excited and hope I can contribute in any way."
Since replacing the retired Jordan Wynn as Utah's primary quarterback, Hays has completed 59-of-100 passes for 627 yards — throwing six touchdowns and two interceptions.
SPREAD IT OUT: Utah's offense is spreading things out, emphasizing the scheme more since the bye week and against USC.
"It was good to us and we felt that it fit more of what we want to get accomplished," Whittingham said. "So we're going to try to, probably, trend in that direction."
The shift has gone smoothly.
"It's been a big transition but we haven't made it so dramatic or anything," Wilson said. "Our players are getting it down."
EARLY PRACTICE: Because of fall break and to match Saturday's early kick time, the Utes practiced Tuesday morning.
Whittingham said the team responded well and was very attentive.
"It was a spirited practice," he explained.
Morning practices could be the norm in the future. Whittingham said the possibility is currently being researched. It all hinges, however, on the academic schedule.
EXTRA POINTS: Junior college transfer Kelvin York has established himself as Utah's No. 2 running back, behind John White and ahead of Jarrell Oliver and Lucky Radley in the pecking order. … Whittingham said that offensive lineman Carlos Lozano is working hard and getting his weight down. He expects Lozano, who weighed 385 pounds when camp opened, to compete for a starting job next spring after redshirting this year. … Sophomore defensive back Wykie Freeman is sidelined for the season after leg surgery. … Utah's game at Oregon State on Oct. 20 will kick off at 8:30 p.m. (MT) and will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company