Any of the three guys could start and win. —Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor
SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps it was only fitting that the announcement came on Monday. Eclipses are nothing new for Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley. The sophomore was named the Utes’ starter, coming out on top after a camp-long competition with seniors Troy Williams and Cooper Bateman.
In the midst of the battle, Huntley said it made them all better at the end of the day.
“We just come out every day and prepare ourselves for a game,” he said.
Now, after eclipsing returning starter Williams and Alabama transfer Bateman for the job, Huntley will be the guy behind center when 25th-ranked Utah takes the field Aug. 31 in the season opener against North Dakota at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
A year ago, Huntley eclipsed junior Brandon Cox for the back-up spot behind Williams — doing so as a true freshman.
Huntley played in four games last season, completing five of seven passes for 60 yards. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound quarterback from Florida rushed for 23 yards and a touchdown in the Foster Farms Bowl victory over Indiana. He also completed a 36-yard pass.
Then, in the offseason, Whittingham changed offensive coordinators — letting long-time assistant Aaron Roderick go and bringing in highly touted quarterback coach Troy Taylor from Eastern Washington. Taylor was charged with energizing the offense, especially the passing game.
Huntley and Williams, and Bateman to a lesser degree in terms of reps, were then given an opportunity in spring and fall camp to show Taylor what they could do while absorbing the new scheme.
“Coming in as a new coordinator, I wanted to give these guys equal opportunity,” Taylor said earlier this month. “And I just don’t want to rush to judgment.”
Taylor noted that Huntley had the element of being a dual threat. He added that Williams brought experience and steadiness and Bateman was armed with good instincts and maturity.
The evaluation process proved to be lengthy, concluding with the announcement just 10 days before the season kicks off.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham repeatedly said the naming of a starting quarterback was the most important decision to be made.
“We want to make sure we do it right,” he said.
The team’s weekly press release revealed that the pecking order at this point features Huntley as the starter, Williams as the backup, and Bateman in the No. 3 spot.
No immediate comment accompanied the announcement. The next media availability is after practice Tuesday.
After Saturday’s camp-ending closed scrimmage, Whittingham said the Utes would have “a good plan in place on Monday.”
Taylor noted that all of the quarterbacks performed well in the scrimmage.
“Any of the three guys could start and win,” he said.
Taylor confirmed that the quarterbacks, including true freshman Jason Shelley and walk-on Drew Lisk, have a firm grasp of the new offense.
“All of them know what they’re doing,” Taylor said. “They make very few mistakes. They’re wired in. They’re all ready to play.”
In describing the characteristics that would best fit his offense, Taylor said “accuracy is always the first thing” and then “mental toughness.” He added traits like “competitiveness” and “being kind of a football junkie that wants to be around it all the time.”
And that’s not all.
“Anticipation” and “functional athleticism” were also mentioned, as was “arm strength” and “decision-making.”
Taylor said as a group there were very few issues with the latter.
“They’re handling it and progressing and executing really well,” Taylor noted.
The decision to go with Huntley puts an end to a run of 13 consecutive starts by Williams. The former Washington quarterback was recently elected a team captain for the second straight season.
“Whether he is the starter or he’s the backup or whatever, you’ve still got to lead, be a stand-up guy and he’ll do that regardless,” Taylor said after the captains were announced last week. “... I have a lot of respect for any guys that are named captain because, yeah, it means that you’re well thought of by your team.”
Williams maintained a determination to come out and work hard every day and continue to be an example. The Utes were 9-4 with Williams as the starter. On Saturday, he weighed in on the daily competition with Huntley and Bateman.
“It’s been a long camp, been competing hard, so hopefully things work out in my favor,” Williams said.
Huntley will make his first start since capping a stellar prep career at Hallandale High in 2015. The Florida Gatorade Player of the Year led his team to the regional finals as a senior. The four-year starter passed for 9,053 yards and 106 touchdowns in his career. He once rushed for 219 yards in a game.
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