SALT LAKE CITY — For an unheralded junior college transfer, making his first major-college start at quarterback against the No. 22-ranked team in the nation, Jon Hays' numbers — 18-of-30 completions for 199 yards and a touchdown — don't look that bad.
But then there's this one — three interceptions.
Those three picks, coupled with two fumbles by teammates, overshadowed what could have been a successful debut for Hays as a starter as Utah lost to Arizona State 35-14 on Saturday.
Hays, of course, was filling in for the Utes' No. 1 quarterback, Jordan Wynn, who went out of last week's game with an injured shoulder and may be out for several more games.
The 6-foot junior from Butte College in California, was the subject of a lot of attention all week and said he felt comfortable in his first start, going against a 4-1 and nationally-ranked Arizona State squad.
"I felt fine, I've been preparing all week," he said.
Hays played well for the most part, displaying a strong arm and leading the Utes on touchdown drives at the start of the first and third quarters. However, it was those three interceptions that everyone will remember.
Ute coach Kyle Whittingham was generally happy with Hays' play Saturday, but was obviously was not happy with the turnovers,
"There was some good and some bad with the quarterback play," Whittingham said. "Jon's a tough kid, a competitive kid and did some good things for a first-time starter against a pretty athletic defense. He has a strong arm and some attributes that are very positive. But we've got to be able to take care of the football."
Hays looked more comfortable in the pocket than a week earlier when he was thrown into the second half against Washington with his team down by 10 points.
On Utah's first drive of the game, he led the Utes on a 46-yard drive capped off by John White's 30-yard TD run.
His first interception came on the first play of the second quarter when a long pass down the sideline was picked off by Alden Darby. However, the Sun Devils didn't capitalize and went three-and-out before punting.
The second interception came with just 25 seconds left in the first half after Hays had led the Utes 64 yards to the ASU 16-yard line. His pass intended for Dallin Rogers was a little short and picked off by Eddie Elder in the end zone. That potentially took three and perhaps seven points off the board for the Utes.
At the start of the second half, Hays led the Utes on a 79-yard drive that included a flea-flicker play when Hays handed off to White, who lateralled back to Hays, who found a streaking Kenneth Scott for a 46-yard gain.6 comments on this story
At that point, things were looking good for the Utes, who led 14-10. They were still up 14-13 when White fumbled, trying to get extra yardage. Then on Utah's next offensive play after the Sun Devils scored, Hays threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Clint Floyd at the Utah 32. Four plays later, the Sun Devils were in the end zone again.
"That could have been 14-point swing — you never know what could have happened on that drive," Hays said.
The next Ute drive featured a fumble by Reggie Dunn in ASU territory and the Utes were done.
"It was disappointing," Hays said. "I put the defense in some terrible spots."