SALT LAKE CITY — Jason Shelley may have been off limits to the media this week. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham explained that the redshirt freshman had enough on his plate as he prepared to make his first collegiate start Saturday against Oregon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
That said, there was still plenty of chatter about the former Texas high school star. After limited action in four games this season, Shelley is stepping in for the injured Tyler Huntley as the 24th-ranked Utes (6-3, 4-3) continue to pursue a Pac-12 South championship.
Wide receiver Britain Covey is confident the offensive unit can get the job done.
“It is hard to lose the captain of your offense. But I think that it’s almost an opportunity to band together and prove to people, prove to ourselves, that it’s just not one person,” he said. “We really have a lot of confidence in our other quarterbacks and so it’s an opportunity to come together I would say.”
Covey has faith in Shelley.
“Jason, when he feels comfortable, he’s better than anyone. He’s amazing,” Covey said. “And so I know there might be some growing pains, but we have a lot of confidence in what he can do. I mean, he throws such a pretty ball. He does. And throws a really good deep ball, too, so we’re really excited about what he brings.”
Although Shelley is just 5-foot-11, Whittingham expects him to stand tall as the starter.
"It doesn't seem to impact Drew Brees, so he does a good job. There are certain quarterbacks that have a knack for throwing it right through windows and he is one of those guys,” Whittingham said. “So to be a quarterback of that stature, you have to have those qualities or you don't survive. Does he wish he was 6-4? Probably. But he has proven to be able to find those windows much like the successful shorter quarterbacks that you see."
During his career at Lone Star High from 2014-16, Shelley racked up 8,772 yards passing with 84 touchdowns. The dual-threat quarterback also ran for 3,163 yards and 54 scores.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal knows all about Shelley.
“We’ve seen him play before,” Cristobal said. “He’s a very talented guy and he does it both with his arm and his feet.”
There will likely be some adjustments, however, as Utah switches gears. The Utes were 12-7 with Huntley as their starter — a term covering the first nine games this season and 10 outings in 2017.
“It was a big blow, obviously,” running back Zack Moss said earlier in the week before being sidelined himself with a knee injury in practice Wednesday. “But, it’s ‘next man-up mentality.’”
Junior Armand Shyne is No. 2 on the depth chart and is scheduled to replace Moss as the starter at running back this week. The loss of Huntley and Moss leaves Utah without its top two rushers this weekend. The duo accounted for 1,396 of the team’s 1,818 yards on the ground this season. Moss has 1,092 of them, becoming just the fourth player in program history to reach the 1,000-yard milestone twice in his career.
Shyne, meanwhile, has been plagued by injuries during his time with the Utes. He was limited to five games in 2016 and none last season. In nine appearances this year, the junior has 166 yards on 37 carries with two touchdowns.
Although short-handed, Utah is still in the midst of a chase for the Pac-12 South title. The Utes enter their last two games of Pac-12 play in a tie for the division lead with Arizona and USC. Arizona State is just one-half game back. Although the Sun Devils can win out with wins over UCLA, Oregon and Arizona, so there are a lot of possibilities that could materialize.
Whittingham, though, isn’t dwelling on them.
“We are just focused on Oregon this week. I guess there are dozens of possible scenarios of what could happen so why waste your time with it,” he said. “We just know that our task is to try and get a win this week and let the chips fall where they may."4 comments on this story
EXTRA POINTS: Utah is just 4-10 against Oregon in Salt Lake City ... The last time the Utes defeated the Ducks at Rice-Eccles Stadium was a 17-13 decision in 2003 ... A pregame flyover by the Utah Air National Guard is planned as part of a Veterans Day weekend celebration ... The Utes lead the nation in red-zone defense (55.6 percent) ... Oregon posted a 41-20 win over Utah last season in Eugene ... The Utes have a 12-15 record in November as members of the Pac-12.
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Oregon (6-3, 3-3) at Utah (6-3, 4-3)
- Rice-Eccles Stadium
- Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
- TV: Pac-12
- Radio: ESPN 700AM