SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s new starting quarterback isn’t speaking with the media this week. Redshirt freshman Jason Shelley, who has elevated to the top spot in place of the injured Tyler Huntley, is being kept away from reporters as the 24th-ranked Utes prepare to host Oregon on Saturday.
“He’s got enough on his plate,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Why would we distract him when we don’t have to with media when he’s got enough digesting the game plan, trying to play his first Division I football game as a starter.”
Whittingham added that it’s nothing out of the ordinary and something that has been done in the past with guys in similar circumstances.
Shelley did meet the press after Saturday’s 38-20 loss at Arizona State. He stepped in when Huntley suffered a broken collarbone in the third quarter, completing 4 of 11 passes for 59 yards with one interception.
“I’ve always prepared as (if) I was going to go in there as a starter because you never know what can happen just like today,” Shelley said. “So I’m always going to be out there preparing like I’m going to be out there for the first snap. So it’s not going to be nothing new. I’m just going to be ready.”
Shelley has appeared in four games this season, passing for 99 yards and rushing for 47.
“He’s a lot like Tyler in that he’s a dual threat. He’s got a very calm demeanor about him. Nothing really gets him flustered. He’s very cool under pressure,” Whittingham said. “He ran this type of offense very efficiently in high school and did a great job, put up big numbers. So this is his element, the spread offense.”
Whittingham added that he’s excited to see what Shelley can do with a full week of No. 1 reps and expressed a lot of confidence in the former Texas prep star.
“The team has got to rally around him,” Whittingham said. “Everybody’s got to embrace him and up their level of play.”
At Lone Star High from 2014-16, Shelley threw for 8,772 yards and 84 touchdowns. He ran for 3,163 yards and 54 scores.
Besides impressive numbers, Whittingham said Shelley has everything you look for in a quarterback like confidence and poise.
“He was just very prolific in high school,” Whittingham noted.
Shelley spent his first season at Utah as a redshirt, bulking up from 178 to 194 pounds.
“I realized it was the best for me. It allowed me to get bigger, stronger, faster and understand the playbook even more,” Shelley told the Deseret News last spring. “So after realizing it was just the best thing for me, then I just took it and ran with it and got my mind right.”
In fall camp, Shelley beat out highly touted freshman Jack Tuttle for the backup spot behind Huntley. Tuttle wound up leaving the program midway through the season without taking a single snap. Before the ASU game, Shelley saw limited duty in wins over Weber State, Arizona and UCLA.
Getting a week’s worth of No. 1 reps in practice this week should help get Shelley up to speed. The more snaps, reasoned linebacker Francis Bernard, the better Shelley will get.
“He’s good,” Bernard said. “I think he’s just as good as any college quarterback out there.”
Offensive lineman Orlando Umana is also a believer in Shelley.
“He’s a hard worker,” Umana said. “So we all believe in him and can’t wait to see him work.”51 comments on this story
As for Huntley, Whittingham said there’s a chance — depending on the timing of a bowl game — that the junior could be able to come back and play. He noted that the loss of Huntley was the most disappointing aspect of the loss to ASU.
“Our heart goes out to him,” Whittingham said. “It’s a devastating injury for him — one that he will respond from, or recover from and be back with us in time.”
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Utes on the air
Oregon (6-3, 3-3)
at Utah (6-3, 4-3)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM