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‘One of the best quarterbacks in the country’: Praise growing for Utah QB Tyler Huntley

Huntley, Bernard win Pac-12 Player of the Week awards

Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) runs the ball into the end zone but the play is called back on a field shift penalty during the game against the Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) runs the ball into the end zone but the play is called back on a penalty during the game against Washington State at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley is earning all sorts of recognition for his strong start to the season. The reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week’s biggest praise, though, may have come after Saturday’s 38-13 win over Washington State.

The compliment came from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

“Tyler was outstanding again,” he said. “He’s playing by far his best football since he’s been a Ute, and he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country in my opinion.”

The numbers back up the claim to Huntley’s elite status. While leading the 17th-ranked Utes to a 4-1 start, Huntley has yet to throw an interception. His completion percentage of .746 ranks seventh in the nation. He’s ranked eighth in ESPN’s “Total Quarterback Rating” that measures all contributions to winning at the position.

“That, as I’ve said before, is a great barometer of how much your QB means to your offense and your team,” Whittingham said.

Overall, Utah’s offense is fifth in completion percentage (.752), ninth in fewest sacks allowed (0.8 per game), 11th in turnover margin (plus-7), 14th in team pass efficiency (176.49), and 22nd in fewest tackles for loss allowed (4.2).

The lone turnovers are two fumbles. Utah and Ohio State are the only FBS teams to have played five games without an interception.

Taking care of the ball is something Huntley takes great pride in. He listed it at the top following the win over Washington State.

“We executed every play,” said Huntley, who has thrown 118 straight passes without a pick.

Last week, Huntley was 21 of 30 for 334 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a pair of scores.

“Tyler is the team leader. He’s doing things at practice you want to see your quarterback do,” Whittingham said. “He’s taking charge and making sure guys are lined up right and doing the right things. He’s acting like a field general which is what you want to see from your quarterback.”

In facing the nation’s top passing attack in Washington State, Whittingham repeatedly said the best defense would be a good offense. Huntley and the cast delivered. The Utes racked up 526 yards, 29 first downs and dominated time of possession by almost nine minutes.

Huntley and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig are obviously working well together. The Utes are sixth in the nation in time of possession average (35:04). Huntley notes that Ludwig has “great attention to detail” and that’s part of what makes him great.

“When we brought Andy back, this is exactly what we envisioned,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got an offense that begins with the run game, which opens up the pass game.

“Moving Tyler around and changing his launch point. Running the quarterback occasionally, but not a ton. This is exactly what we hoped would happen and now we’ve got to keep it going,” he added.

Production is also at a premium on defense. Utah ranks third nationally in rushing defense (53.8 ypg), fourth in interceptions (7) and 18th in total defense (282.5 ypg). The defense has allowed just 20 second-half points this season. They shut out Washington State’s high-powered offense over the final two quarters on Saturday.

Utah linebacker Francis Bernard, who made a game-high 12 tackles and intercepted a pass in the game, was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. It’s his second such honor of the season.

“Francis Bernard has just been such a great addition to our football team and just love the guy,” said Whittingham, who noted that the BYU transfer is cut from the same mold as last year’s star linebackers Cody Barton and Chase Hansen. “All he likes to do is play football and have fun and work hard. He’s just got a great attitude.”

The Utes have a bye this week and return to action Oct. 12 at Oregon State. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. MT and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.