On Friday, the Utah Utes football team will march to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. They won’t be going to look at the sights and sounds but instead, they’ll be going there on a mission. This mission is to beat the Oregon Ducks and win the Pac-12 Championship.
By beating the Ducks and winning the Pac-12, the Utes have an opportunity to make their case for a spot in the College Football Playoff. That playoff spot could get them surrounded by the three best teams in the country: Clemson, LSU, and Ohio State. All three of those teams should win their conference championships and secure their spot in the College Football Playoffs.
For the Utes, they have some work to do. Oregon isn’t a slouch, and at any given moment Justin Herbert could look like the top quarterback that he was projected to be for the 2020 NFL Draft. Unfortunately for his draft stock, he’s moved down my draft board with inconsistent play and lack of progression. That’s concerning as we close out the fourth year of his college career. That being said, Utah has a chance to use their top-notch defense and pressure Herbert and the Ducks offense into mistakes.
Overall, Utah already has six players invited to the Senior Bowl. Four of those players that are invited to the Senior Bowl are on the defensive side of the football for the Utes. It’s no secret that their defense has been the most consistent unit in the country, only allowing 11.3 points per game. However, for Utah to beat Oregon, the keys to the Pac-12 Championship belong to their offensive captain and quarterback, Tyler Huntley. Let’s jump into some film on why Tyler Huntley is the key to the success of Utah and their potential run at a championship!
Zone Read/Bubble Option
Call it what you will, but the concept remains the same. This is a very common theme in the Utah Utes’ offense, and it makes Tyler Huntley do one thing: think. That was something that new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig wanted to focus on this season. Ludwig wanted to make Huntley think. There’s no better way to do that than giving him not just one option but three options during a single play.
On the play above, that’s exactly what happens. Tyler Huntley is given three options, and he makes the correct call on this play from week five against Washington State. For starters, Utah comes out 2×2 in a shotgun formation with the running back offset to the left of the quarterback. Before the snap, Huntley will send his slot receiver in an orbit motion to the left.
This orbit motion forces the safeties to rotate their coverage. It forces the free safety back into the single-high role at the top of the secondary and the strong safety rolls into the alley. He’s now responsible for the player that’s running the orbit motion to his side (right).
As the ball is snapped, Huntley will give a zone-read look in the backfield. This forces the defensive end to either follow the running back and bend down the line-of-scrimmage (LOS) or stay home with quarterback responsibility. Meanwhile, Tyler Huntley now has two reads: the defensive end or the safety covering the alley.
During the exchange, Huntley does a great job with the fake and reads the safety afterwards. As you can see, the safety is focused on the potential bubble screen rather than open field that’s opening up inside. Huntley goes through his first option of faking/giving to Zack Moss in the backfield. His second option is to either throw the screen or he can keep the ball and run into the open field.
As you can see from the full play above, Tyler Huntley decided to keep the ball in his hands. He has a ton of open field and makes the right decision with a monstrous gain and first down. This play will happen against Oregon, and there’s a good chance that Tyler Huntley will think and make the right decision.
Many people will call him a “mobile” quarterback, and that’s fine. According to their offensive coordinator, Andy Ludwig, he’s the most talented quarterback he’s ever worked with. The athletic ability is there, even if he’s not loading the stat sheet with rushing statistics. On the season, Huntley only has 74 carries for 255 yards and five touchdowns. It’s his lowest season rushing totals of his career. It’s nothing to be concerned about but he’s doing more with his arm than he ever has. With that being said, let’s look at what his arm can do.
Terrific Ball Placement vs. Man Coverage
We all know how crucial it is for a quarterback to put the ball on the money. From zone coverage to man coverage, having good ball placement can help an offense click on various levels. This season, Tyler Huntley has been clicking on various levels. He’s having the best season of his career as a passer and it’s a key reason to why the Utes are playing the Ducks for the Pac-12 Championship. On the season, he’s completed 75.5% of his passes and of his 249 passing attempts, 84.7% of his passes have been on-target (per Sports Info Solutions).
Despite losing to USC in the 4th week of the season, Tyler Huntley made some plays that should help those that are on the fence about him as a draft prospect. On the play above, Huntley comes out in an empty formation. On defense, USC has man coverage and Huntley has to find a way to beat it. The wide receiver does a great job going inside-out on his vertical route but Huntley is the real winner here.
He places this pass perfectly in the hands of the wide receiver for the first down. It’s not just the ball placement, either. Look at how Huntley stands tall in the pocket at his listed 6’1″ and 205 pound frame and takes a shot from the defensive end that twists inside (line stunt). Not only do we get terrific ball placement, we get a quarterback showing his toughness.
Stepping Up in the Pocket
If you’re a quarterback and you have bricks for feet, just forget it. I’m not saying your quarterback has to run like a created player in a video game but they’ve got to be able step up in the pocket. They have to be aware of their surroundings and make sure they have a clear platform to throw from. Sometimes you can’t help it with pressure in your face but if the pocket in front of you is relatively clean — step up and make the throw.
As you can see on the play above, Tyler Huntley does a good job maneuvering in the pocket. He sees the pocket collapse a little bit in front of him so he side steps and then steps up and makes a good throw towards the sideline. His eyes are always moving and for the most part, he’s going through his progressions in the pocket and down the field. The ball placement on this throw could have been better but it was still a veteran move by him to give himself a clear platform to throw from.
Tight Window Throw
Who doesn’t like a quarterback that can thread the needle or fit a pass into a tight coverage? I’m not sure what the radar gun is going to say when Tyler Huntley fires a pass into the hands of the receiver but there are plenty of times that he puts good zip on the ball. It’s not just to a wide open receiver in the middle of the field, either. He can also fit passes into a tight coverage and more often than not, he makes it look easy.
There are two things that you need to focus on when watching the play above. For starters, watch how Huntley goes through his progressions. He starts from left and works his way to his right. With receivers covered throughout the process, Huntley finds his tight end (#80 Brant Kuithe) for the completion. As Huntley is throwing it, you can see that the tight end is surrounded by three USC defenders. Be prepared to see this duo connect quite a bit on Friday. They have connected on 25 receptions for 501 yards (team high) and six touchdowns (team high).
Wherever Huntley has gone, he’s found success. In high school, he was the 2015 Florida Gatorade Football Player of the Year. He went 34-10 as a starting quarterback at Hallandale High School and threw for over 9,000 yards and more than 100 passing touchdowns. Now, he’s a finalist for the Manning Award which is given to the top college quarterback in the United States (judged by the Sugar Bowl Committee). Previous winners include Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson.
As for the game against Oregon, you have to be feeling good as Utah fan. They have an elite defense with a quarterback that’s playing at a high level, as I’ve shown you. Even if the Utes are faced with some tough third-downs, there’s a good chance that Tyler Huntley can get them out of that jam. On third down this season, he’s completed 51 passes on 64 attempts for 812 yards and five touchdowns. Meanwhile, he has thrown an interception on third down this season and his on-target percentage is at 89.1% (per Sports Info Solutions).
For the 2020 NFL Draft, Tyler Huntley will be on the radar of plenty of NFL teams. He has the tools that some teams will covet. He doesn’t have elite arm strength but he’s efficient with the football and has consistent ball placement on most of his throws. Meanwhile, he’s ahead of the curve when it comes to working through progressions and teams have to honor his mobility, too. It’s hard to say that he should be a day one starter but he’s certainly got the upside to become a game manager as a starter for an NFL franchise.
With everyone that’s ever doubted Tyler Huntley, he’s always found a way to prove them wrong. It’s been an uphill battle to get here but Tyler Huntley has confidence and knows he has what it takes to win football games. Regardless of what the future holds, the only thing that he can focus on is playing his best game against the Oregon Ducks on Friday night. Tyler Huntley will be the key for Utah to win the Pac-12 Championship and keep their college football playoff hopes alive.