Utah junior quarterback Tyler Huntley has shown coach Kyle Whittingham and the offensive staff that he is prepared to be the starter for the second consecutive year when the season starts Thursday against Weber State.
“He is doing everything better than he was last year,” Whittingham said in Monday’s press conference. “He was very good last year for us, but he is a year older and is more mature. He has that year of competition under his belt and he is a seasoned veteran now I guess you could say.
“He has done a good job running the offense in the offseason ever since last spring. His decision-making is better; not that it was bad, but he has just improved in all areas. There was no glaring weakness.”
When Huntley goes under center at Rice-Eccles Stadium against Weber State, fans will notice his bigger frame, bulking up 15 pounds to 200. He stands at 6-foot-1. He is stronger after missing three games last year because of injuries.
“One thing we haven’t quite gotten him where we want is on his size, but he is working hard,” Whittingham said. “It isn’t anything he’s doing; some guys just have a harder time putting on weight than others.”
The Utes went 6-4 when Huntley was the starter last season. He completed 199 of 312 passes for 2,411 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. A dual threat, second to only Arizona’s Khalil Tate in the conference, Huntley rushed for 537 yards and six scores.
Last season, he beat out senior Troy Williams for the starting job despite being a sophomore. This year, it was his job from the start.
“I feel like we’re all comfortable in each other and comfortable with the plan,” Huntley told the Deseret News. “We’ve just got to go and win some games now.”
While Utah is in good hands with Huntley, the Utes are in good “feet” with their kicking game. Kicker Matt Gay and punter Mitch Wishnowsky are each AP preseason first-team All-Americans and former national award winners.
The kicking game is usually a strong point of Whittingham’s teams, as is his defensive front, but the Utes must replace three starters on the line from last season.
–LB Chase Hansen, a senior who has played his way through injuries most of his career, is making the transition from safety, where he was honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2016. He will be a starter at the rover position. Hansen ranked second on the team last year in tackles per game (6.38).
–Utah is 4-0 against Weber State and has outscored the Wildcats 189-51. The last game was a 70-7 Utah win in 2013. Every game in the series has been played in Salt Lake City.
–WR Britain Covey, a sophomore, is back in the starting lineup after returning from a two-year church mission. He was Utah’s leading receiver, a Freshman All-American and an honorable mention All-Pac-12 return specialist in 2015.
–QB Jason Shelley, a redshirt freshman, has been named the No. 2 quarterback behind starter Tyler Huntley. Shelley earned the nod over true freshman Jack Tuttle.