Unlike the previous two seasons, there’s no battle in fall camp for Utah’s starting quarterback job.

But there is an ongoing competition to be Cam Rising’s backup.

Texas transfer Ja’Quinden Jackson and unlikely Rose Bowl hero Bryson Barnes are competing for QB2, along with freshmen Nate Johnson and Brandon Rose.

How does coach Kyle Whittingham assess the backup quarterback competition a week into camp? 

“It looks good, as far as some good things going on. We’re not going to make a decision before the first scrimmage, which is Saturday,” Whittingham said. “JJ’s looking good. Bryson Barnes is doing a good job. Nate is really looking good. Brandon Rose probably has one of the strongest arms but he’s a little bit lacking in conceptual things of the offense. He needs to spend more time in the weight room, which he will. But we’ve got a lot of good candidates. Not separating themselves right now but hopefully after the scrimmage it will.”

Whittingham was asked how he keeps the quarterbacks happy with so few reps available. 

“I’m not worried about keeping people happy right now,” he said. “I’m just worried about results on the field.”

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Last year in the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl, Rising went down with an injury.

While almost everyone expected Jackson to take the field because he was listed on the depth chart as the backup QB, instead it was Barnes, a walk-on from Milford, Utah. 

In Barnes’ second series, he threw a game-tying touchdown pass to Dalton Kincaid with less than two minutes remaining. 

Ohio State responded by kicking a game-winning 19-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining for a 48-45 victory.

Many might have been stunned by Barnes’ performance on a big stage. But Kincaid and the rest of the Utes were not.

“Bryson’s thrown me that pass multiple times. I knew it was coming there as soon as I lined up. He put it in the perfect spot and made it easy for me,” Kincaid said. “When a leader goes down like that, it’s tough on a team. Bryson did a great job of getting the guys together and saying, ‘Let’s go do this thing.’”

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For Jackson, 2021 was an emotionally difficult season after the death of his two close friends and teammates, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe. Jackson said he dealt with mental health issues during the season, which played a factor in him not playing in the Rose Bowl. 

“Because of the situation with ALowe, it was more my part than anything,” Jackson said. “It was dealing with mental health … that’s what the case was.”

“We went through a lot last year as a team. He knew those guys a lot more personally,” Kincaid said of Jackson. “I can’t imagine what went through his head last year. It’s being there for him through it all. He’s got a lot of motivation.”

The Red team’s Ja’Quinden Jackson hands off to Jaylon Glover during the University of Utah’s Red and White game at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 23, 2022. Jackson is in the battle to be the Utes’ QB2 this season. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News