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Brad Rock: Ute quarterbacks get what they deserve

Praise and shame come from how they perform. Just like musical artists, actually

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s only a few days before Utah’s season opener, and Snoop is feeling good. He knows he’ll take punishment all season — a lot of it. But is he worried about carnivorous defensive linemen? Howling safeties?

“No, not at all,” says Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley. “They put on their jocks just like me.”

Huntley isn’t big, but he’s built like a speedboat, all clean lines and sleek angles. “A buck-ninety” is how coach Kyle Whittingham describes his quarterback. The plan is to get him up to 210 pounds.

But the surprise starter is off to a good beginning. He’s speaking freely and confidently, having won the job over last year’s signal-caller, Troy Williams. And he’s dishing anecdotes. For instance, how he got his nickname.

“Snoop came from my coach in high school,” Huntley says. “He said it was because I was skinny like Snoop Dogg. It stuck.”

The focus last week was all about the quarterbacks. That’s because, in an uncharacteristic move, Whittingham agreed with offensive coordinator Troy Taylor that Huntley should start. You could have knocked media and fans over with a blink.

Whit not choosing the incumbent?

He himself is an incumbent.

He’s also a creature of habit. He stuck with Travis Wilson for what seemed like decades, despite Utah’s offensive shortcomings. He winced each time Jordan Wynn went down, but always returned to him when he got healthy. Brian Johnson was Whittingham’s choice the moment Alex Smith left.

The incumbent always has the inside track in the Whit system.

But on Aug. 21, Whittingham announced Huntley had edged out Williams.

“You can’t break me, no matter what you do to me, what you tell me, no matter what it is,” said a chippy Williams.

That’s actually good news to Whittingham, because teams rarely make it through a season with just one quarterback. Besides, this story isn’t necessarily over. Utah has three non-conference games to test drive Huntley. If he wavers, Williams will resume where he left off last December.

In some ways, the obsession with quarterbacks is unfair. What if the offensive line is so bad it can’t block an email? What if the receivers are so inept they can’t catch a cold? The blame still gets directed toward the quarterback.

This spring the offensive line and receiving corps were concerns. But things have sharply improved, especially at the edges. Whittingham has eight receivers that he says make him “very comfortable.”

With the addition of Oregon transfer Darren Carrington II and the quick rise of redshirt freshman Samson Nacua, combined with returnees such as Siaosi Wilson, Raelon Singleton, Demari Simpkins and Kyle Fulks, there’s no shortage of available talent.

Utah's Tyler Huntley passes during the annual Red & White Spring Game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 15, 2017.
Utah's Tyler Huntley passes during the annual Red & White Spring Game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 15, 2017.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Utah had 17 receivers on the roster to start camp.

“Samson was just a little thin — still is — but he does a lot of instinctive things as a wide receiver that you can’t teach,” Whittingham says.

Whether Taylor’s pass-centric attack works, though, will naturally fall on Huntley.

But don’t feel too sorry for the quarterbacks. They get all the glory and plenty of chances to redeem themselves.

“It all kind of comes with the territory,” says tight end Harrison Handley. “Quarterback is one of the only players on offense that gets the ball on every single play, so he’s going to get that (blame) sometimes.”

Handley pauses for effect.

“Besides, we ought to humble them sometimes, know what I mean?”

When you own the stage, you get the spotlight.

“I think everyone focuses on the quarterback, for better or worse,” says quarterback-turned-safety Chase Hansen. “It comes with the territory. I think they’re aware of that. That’s part of the blessing and the curse, I guess.”

So with the first kickoff nearing, the Utes are feeling good at defensive line, as usual. But they are also highly optimistic that under Taylor’s direction, and Huntley’s execution, and the receivers’ adroitness, this will be a high-volume offense.

“I just gotta come out and perform,” says Huntley.

Anyone named Snoop knows all about performing.