Utah has a new quarterback directing the offense as it opens the season.
But senior quarterback Charlie Brewer is certainly no stranger to college football.
There’s a reason why the former Baylor star has been named to the 2021 preseason watch lists for the Davey O’Brien Award (nation’s best college quarterback) and Maxwell Award (college player of the year).
His experience was a key factor as he out-dueled sophomore Cam Rising to earn the starting job during fall camp.
When the Utes host Weber State in Salt Lake City Thursday (5:30 p.m., MDT, Pac-12 Network), it will mark the 40th career start for Brewer.
Brewer arrived on campus in January and coach Kyle Whittingham has learned a lot about him since that time. How does he describe Brewer?
“Poised. Calm under pressure. Decisive. Gets the ball out of his hand quickly. Accurate thrower. He has a good pocket presence,” he said. “He can sense the rush and move around in the pocket the way you want a quarterback to. His escapability is good. He’s not a statue back there. The main thing is, we see his decision-making. He’s a great decision-maker.”
Brewer possesses an impressive football pedigree. His brother, Michael, played football at Virginia Tech. His father, grandfather and uncle all played quarterback at the University of Texas.
Brewer is accurate, athletic and smart. And he’s proven.
At Baylor from 2017-20, he threw for 9,700 yards, No. 2 in school history, and became the second player in school history to eclipse the 10,000-yard mark for total offense in a career with 10,797 yards — including 1,039 rushing yards. Brewer passed for 65 touchdowns and ran for 22 TDs.
In 2019, he led the Bears to an 11-3 record and an appearance in the Big 12 championship game, where they fell to Oklahoma. Baylor received a bid to the Sugar Bowl, where the Bears lost to Georgia.
During his career at Baylor, Brewer ranks in the top five in career completions (No. 1, 828), completion percentage (No. 2, .635), passing yards (No. 2, 9,700), touchdown passes (No. 2, 65) and passing efficiency (No. 5, 138.1).
In a 2019 article in The Athletic, former Baylor receivers coach Bob Bicknell compared Brewer to 1984 Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie. Bicknell’s dad, Jack, coached Flutie at Boston College.
Meanwhile, then-Baylor coach Matt Rhule, now coach of the Carolina Panthers, learned from Steve Addazio, who coached Tim Tebow at Florida and is now the coach at Colorado State, the importance of having a quarterback with the ‘it’ factor.
The ‘it’ factor is something that Rhule identified quickly in Brewer.
And, apparently, it’s something that Whittingham has identified in Brewer as well.
The defining characteristic: ‘He’s fearless’
Wide receiver Britain Covey has watched a lot of Brewer’s games at Baylor. And he’s excited about Brewer bringing that same moxie to Utah.
“In the film that I’ve watched, it’s that he’s fearless. He’s only 6-foot. He’s not a 4.4 guy. He doesn’t have the killer arm that Patrick Mahomes has. But he does everything that you need him to do,” Covey said. “He has game-winning drives, he’ll dive for the pylon, he’ll do all those things.
“As I’ve seen in person, it hasn’t been as many live reps, it’s his understanding of defenses that try to disguise themselves. Great defenses always come with disguises. … It’s almost like there hasn’t been anything that he hasn’t seen. I think that’s his defining characteristic.”
Despite the success Brewer’s had at the quarterback position, he continues to carry a chip on his shoulder and a relentless desire to improve.
“I’m naturally very competitive. Always have been,” he said. “I was under-recruited out of high school and that’s always pushed me. I still have a lot of work to do to get better.”
After a rough 2020, COVID-19-impacted season, Brewer decided he needed a fresh start as a grad transfer. He felt Utah was the right fit.
“I thought it was a really good situation and a really good team — a team that’s going to win,” he said. “I wanted to be part of a winning team. I thought the coaching staff was really good. I’m glad I made the decision, for sure.”
The QB battle
During the spring, Brewer separated himself quickly from the rest of the quarterbacks, due primarily to his experience.
Meanwhile, Rising, who had earned the starting job going into the 2020 campaign before suffering a serious shoulder injury, was sidelined during the spring to rehab after surgery.
During the spring game last April, Brewer completed 15 of 15 passes for 151 yards, two touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 228.6 in one half of play.
Brewer looked every bit the part of a quarterback with plenty of Division I experience at a very high level.
Many presumed Brewer would wrap up the starting job early in fall camp. But Rising made the decision more difficult than expected for the coaching staff.
“It was a good battle. Cam’s a great quarterback,” Brewer said. “I thought it was a really good competition. We pushed each other each week, each day, really. Both of us got better.”
It wasn’t until after the second scrimmage that Brewer locked up the job.
“He had the edge statistically, first of all. That’s not the only thing that you take into account but he did have a slight edge statistically. He’s a guy that has a lot of leadership,” Whittingham said. “It was a close call. It was so close it could have gone either way.
“But Charlie’s experience, having started 40 Division I games, the success he had at Baylor throwing the football, I believe our team would have been just fine with either. … They would have rallied around whichever guy ultimately won the job,” he continued. “They’re both very well-respected and hard workers. They prepare the way you’re supposed to. … It was really close but ultimately Charlie, probably the experience factor was the biggest reason.”
Covey felt that Brewer would ultimately be the starter.
“I saw it coming. I think that it was one of those, you have to knock out the champ; no one’s going to win by split decision-type of deal,” he said. “Charlie had such a good spring that it was going to take something miraculous from Cam to do that after surgery. We all expected that but Cam came in and really threw a wrench in things. It took longer but this is what most people expected coming out of spring.”
“Charlie was doing a lot of good things all camp. It was a close battle between both of them,” said linebacker Devin Lloyd. “I knew we were going to have good quarterback regardless. Charlie was doing well all camp.”
When Brewer was told he would be the starter, it wasn’t done with much fanfare. He knew there was a lot of work left to do.
“There’s going to be some excitement but there’s still a task to do. I still have got to play well,” he said. “Just being focused and taking it day by day and keep improving. Just because I won the job doesn’t mean I can get complacent. I’ve got to keep getting better each day.”
The QB1 job
While the program is different and his teammates are different, Brewer has been here before in a figurative sense.
He knows what it takes to lead an offense, be productive, score points and win games.
“Getting the opportunity to lead this team is obviously a big responsibility,” Brewer said. “I’m up for it, for sure.”
He likes the offensive line that is tasked to protect him and he likes the play-making weapons that surround him, with wide receivers like Covey, Theo Howard, Solomon Enis, Jaylen Dixon and Devaughn Vele; and tight ends like Brant Kuithe, Cole Fotheringham and Dalton Kincaid; and running backs T.J. Pledger, Tavion Thomas, Chris Curry and Micah Bernard.
“I feel extremely comfortable. We’ve been working together since January. The chemistry is definitely there. We’re excited to put it on display this week,” Brewer said. “This is a really good football team. We’ve got to keep putting in the work and play well every week but I see a lot of potential, for sure.”
Brewer has formed a strong relationship with offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig since arriving at Utah.
Learning a new, and different, playbook at Utah has been the biggest challenge for Brewer. But he’s watched countless hours of film.
“Just learning the terminology of the playbook,” he said. “I came from a spread offense to an old school or pro-style offense. Getting that down took time. But I was able to get it done.”
Covey acknowledged that Brewer has undergone a somewhat steep learning curve in terms of going from the kind of offense that Baylor ran to the one Utah runs under Ludwig.
“That’s one thing that Charlie had to learn when he came here. At Baylor, Charlie was more of a shotgun (QB). You go out there and spread the field and pick your matchups,” he said. “This is more methodical. We’re going to set this up, be a great run team, a great play-action team. I think that took some time.”
One of Brewer’s strengths is his ability to take command of the huddle. That’s something the defense has noticed.
“I really like his confidence. He has great arm talent and he has trust with all the receivers,” Lloyd said. “It’s his confidence and his ability to get it to the receiver, no matter the pass concept.”
Two years ago, quarterback Tyler Huntley led the Utes to an 11-win season and an appearance in the Pac-12 championship game.
Utah is hoping Brewer can help take this team even higher.
“He’s not as fast or as good a runner as Tyler, but he moves well in the pocket,” Covey said. “If it’s third-and-five, he’ll pick up the first down with his legs. That’s always exciting. That really opens up what you can do. You have to put a spy on a guy like that.”
Brewer knows what it takes to win at the Power Five level. And he’s eager to do just that for the Utes.