SALT LAKE CITY — Tyler Huntley has often been a carrot dangling from a stick, tantalizing but just out of reach. Saturday, he was the player who sent Jack Tuttle to the showers, so to speak, for all the right reasons.
In the Utes’ 41-28 win over USC, it was Huntley at his versatile best. There were a couple of early game passes that could have been picks. A sack for a fumble that went for a Trojan touchdown. But, mainly, there was a sublimely executed game that put the Utes back in the race for the South Division championship.
Huntley, a junior, is finally getting consistency at quarterback. This time, fans saw him at his bodacious best: 341 passing yards, four touchdowns, 33 rushing yards and a score. He was a full-service department store, leading the Utes to 541 yards total offense.
Huntley’s execution was more than enough to defeat the Trojans. For example, a 15-yard keeper, artful in its execution. He had several scrambles that looked dead in the water, but finished like a tsunami.
A perfect fade pass into the end zone was dropped, but it was followed by another perfect pass to the same place. That time, it was a score. Huntley has sometimes blazed passes too hard to handle in short spaces, but in this game he threaded them with the touch of a surgeon. The player who spent the early part of the season throwing short high-percentage, low-yield passes was now dropping them from the skies. He had receivers with 55, 79, 68 and 56 yards.
It was an offense that for the last three games has lived up to its promise.
“Tyler doesn’t play not to make mistakes,” said receiver Britain Covey. “He plays to play well, basically.”
A quarterback having his day, week and month.
This is Huntley, who is fully looking the part of a good Pac-12 quarterback. So good that Tuttle — the highest-rated QB recruit in school history — walked away midseason. Sometimes Huntley’s stats don’t overwhelm. This time they did.
“Superstar over here is killing it,” said linebacker Chase Hansen.
Thus ended one of the quirkier weeks in recent memory for the Utes. It started with the news Tuttle was as gone as a warm plate of cookies. These things happen when there’s zero playing time. He shouldn’t be vilified for that. He had his choice of programs, coming out of high school. While transfers aren’t unusual, midseason decisions are. Tuttle might have tolerated being listed No. 2 on the depth chart, but No. 3? He surely expected to start from the beginning. But Huntley had other plans. The coaching staff stuck with its returning starter. After a slow early season, the Utes are back in the race.
“We never had no doubt,” Huntley said. “We knew what we were capable of and just continued to execute.”
This is how little doubt they had. They trailed 14-0 with 5:58 left in the first quarter. What was Huntley thinking?
“We’re not losing," he said.
Soon, the lead was 20, and the clock was winding down.
The Utes have scored 40-plus points in three consecutive games for the first time since joining the conference. For all that, it’s no secret the Utes are built on defense. They came into the game ninth nationally in total defense, second in rushing defense and red zone defense. There’s no deception with Kyle Whittingham. He builds his teams on that side of the ball. That has kept them in games. Utah has lost just five of 17 games decided by more than two touchdowns since 2014.22 comments on this story
Utah’s strength has also been part of its problem. Getting top-shelf passing quarterbacks like Tuttle is a freak occurrence. Scheduled to make a recruiting visit to Utah on Saturday was Jayden Daniels, the No.2-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country. So the message was clear for Tuttle. He was already No. 3 in the depth chart, with another star — one better suited to Troy Taylor’s offense — possibly on the way.
Realistically, future quarterbacks are for tomorrow. The present quarterback gave Tuttle all the reason he needed to take his game elsewhere. Sometimes a breakup works for everyone involved.