PASADENA, Calif. — After several lackluster offensive performances this season, the Utah football team decided to make a switch at the quarterback position, inserting freshman Travis Wilson in place of senior Jon Hays for Saturday's game against UCLA in the Rose Bowl.
It didn't make much difference, however, as the Ute offense was sluggish as usual, barely surpassing its 114th-in-the-nation average of 299 yards per game thanks to a late touchdown drive.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was not at all happy with his offense in the 21-14 loss, although he said Wilson played admirably in his first collegiate start.
"Travis did a lot of good things even though the production is not near what it needs to be," Whittingham said. "I thought he showed some progress. He's a confident kid and he didn't have a deer-in-the-headlight look at any point in the ballgame."
But Whittingham was not happy about an offense that barely surpassed the 300-yard mark (319 total yards) and could only manage one touchdown (the other came on a special teams play).
"Offensively it's no secret we have to get better," Whittingham said. "You're not going to win many football games scoring just one touchdown. We've got to do a better job on offense."
The Ute coach had hinted that Wilson might be the starter earlier in the week when Whittingham praised his freshman, saying that he regretted not playing him more in the loss to USC. He also said Wilson would definitely play more this week. Still, it was a surprise to many when the 6-foot-6 Californian trotted onto the field in the first quarter.
"He outplayed Jon in practice," Whittingham said. "We didn't have a lot of production against USC, and we're trying to jump-start the offense and get a spark, and we thought Travis would provide that for us."
Wilson said he knew by the middle of the week that he would be starting, and he welcomed the challenge.
"I was really glad I got to start this game," Wilson said. "I felt comfortable and felt fine out there."
Wilson completed a pass to Jake Murphy for 14 yards to open the game and moved the Utes to a couple of first downs before throwing an interception, on a deflected pass, on the sixth play of the game. That turned out to be the only turnover of the game for the Utes, but it was a costly one as the Bruins drove 69 yards on a methodical drive for the first score of the game.
Wilson finally led the Utes on a touchdown drive covering 90 yards late in the game as he hit Murphy with a couple of passes and found Devonte Christopher for a 34-yard pass down the right sideline. Then Wilson was on the receiving end of a 23-yard pass from Christopher on a double reverse play to the three-yard line.
Ironically, Wilson wasn't in for the touchdown as his helmet came off on a third-down play. Instead, Hays came in on fourth down and fired a pass to Dres Anderson for the score from the one.
"I felt like I got in, but during the play they ripped off my helmet and I had to come out," Wilson said. "I wish I could have stayed in for the touchdown."
Whittingham wouldn't say whether the quarterback competition is open, saying he had to "look at the film" to decide whether Wilson will continue as the quarterback. It's unlikely the Utes will go back to a senior at this point in the season, but they know they have to get better on offense.
"That's our main issue now, our lack of production on offense, and we've got to get a way to that solved," Whittingham said.
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