It’s red vs blue, church vs state, the Cougars vs the Utes. When you break it down though, there are a lot more moving parts that make up a rivalry game. It’s more than the Cougarettes vs Ute cheerleaders or Cosmo vs Swoop. There are 22 players on the field at a time. Each player has a specific position with a role they need to fulfill to help their team win. It’s time to break down a very important position for one of the most heated rivalries in college football.
Quarterback: A quarterback’s role is to direct the team’s offense behind the center. He must call the play and yell “Hike!” when he wants the center to snap the ball. He can then run or pass to move the ball closer to a score.
Each football team usually has at least three quarterbacks in the depth chart. In a contact sport like football that is necessary. It’s no surprise who the starters are supposed to be. Let’s take a look at who they are.
Utes Starting Quarterback: Tyler Huntley
Tyler Huntley is the bees knees in the Beehive State, when he’s not injured that is.
The Hallandale, Florida native saw limited action in four games his Freshman year. He then played 10 games in 2017 but missed a few due to an arm injury he suffered in Tucson in a narrow win over the Arizona Wildcats.
Last year, Huntley played very well despite setbacks in the Evergreen State early on. The offense looked a little anemic at times vs Washington and Washington State. It was forgivable to lose to the Huskies since their defense is one of the best in the country but it was a head scratcher that they lost to the Cougars. Relax Ute fans. I’m talking about the Washington State Cougars. The Utes haven’t lost to the Cougars down south for a decade now.
Huntley ultimately went down again in the Grand Canyon State in 2018, but this time it was a broken collarbone against the Arizona State Sun Devils. He still played in 9 games and set the Utes up for a successful season.
Strengths: speed, velocity, experience
Weaknesses: decision making
BYU Starting Quarterback: Zach Wilson
Zach Wilson still looks like a young high school boy but don’t let his innocent appearance fool you. This star out of Corner Canyon High School in Draper Utah is one bad dude on the football field. He has had a lot to say regarding the rivalry. He is really hoping for another chance to beat Utah since last year they let their lead slip away.
Zach grew up a Utes fan but it was the Cougars who more heavily recruited him. To be fair, he didn’t have to play Wisconsin, Arizona or California. In his 7 starts he won four of them but Hawaii, UMass, New Mexico State and Western Michigan are nothing to write home about. Yes he was competitive against good teams but time will tell whether he can survive the 4 game Power 5 gauntlet to start the season.
Between Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington the USC Trojans are probably their easiest P5 game. Zach is definitely good enough to lead the Cougars to another bowl game.
Strengths: accuracy, accuracy and did I mention accuracy? Don’t forget confidence. He believes he can end the decade losing streak to Utah. He also makes good decisions. He didn’t have very many interceptions for a freshman
Weaknesses: Consistency. The only winning streak he threaded last season was to two easy teams. Also can he be the same player after shoulder surgery? He finished out the season but that postseason surgery has made the reps a work in progress in the offseason.
By the Numbers:
It’s hard to compare a guy with one year under his belt to a guy with three years because the sample size is smaller. That doesn’t mean we can’t try though!
1. Better first season: This has go to Zach only because he played in 9 games so he had more of a chance to prove himself. However the numbers get interesting when you compare Zach’s first year to Tyler’s sophomore year when they played close to an even amount of games.
💙 Zach Wilson Freshman year
❤️ Tyler Huntley Freshman Year
🔘 Tyler Huntley Sophomore year
Based on these numbers, Tyler Huntley was a high risk, high reward player early in his career. He threw quite a few more interceptions than Zach but racked up more passing yards due to his long bombs. His completion percentage was lower though.
Bottom Line: It’s very possible that Zach Wilson in his second year could be better than Huntley’s second year was with plenty of reps under his belt. The fact is that both quarterbacks are returning from injuries and, assuming both are healthy, you pick the quarterback with more experience and better overall production. Unless Zach can make an enormous leap in year 2, he won’t rack up more numbers than Tyler Huntley this year.
It is still possible that BYU wins if they can win the turnover battle and Zach Wilson shows the accuracy and intelligence that he displayed in his perfect 18 for 18 game against Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The problem is the Utes aren’t a mediocre MAC team. Zach’s completion streak may date back to the last play of the Utah game but it will likely end in the first quarter of this year’s Utah game. He can’t stay perfect forever. Like Taysom and Tanner, the Zach Wilson honeymoon has to end at some point. The fans comparing him to the great Jim McMahon need to pump the breaks. Let’s just sit back and watch what he does.
I’m not saying that Huntley is light years ahead of Zach. There is definitely some potential here but I think the Cougars would have a better chance beating a hobbled Utes team last year than they would against a healthy Tyler Huntley to start the year.
For one game, one rivalry game, the Cougars could be as good as they ever were. Until it happens it’s hard to pick the Cougars. Zach will get at least one win over the Utes. All streaks come to an end.
The Cougars have had tough years like the 2017 debacle and the Coach Crowton years. They don’t stay bad forever though. They beat plenty of Power 5 teams and are almost often competitive against the Utes unless Jake Heaps is their quarterback. They will eventually get over the hump but, because the Utes are better on paper, they will win IF and only if they play like the great Utes from Game 1. I give Utah a great chance to win because this is a rivalry game. If they started with Weber State again I’d expect them to take it easy but it won’t be that easy. They will have to play like they really want it from the opening kickoff.