|Left Outside||Left Middle||Right Middle||Right Outside||Total|
|0||2/2 (1 TD)||3/3||1/1||6/6 (1 TD)|
|Total||4/6||4/5 (1 TD)||6/9||3/3||17/23|
Outside the Pocket: 1/2
Under Pressure: 3/6 (plus 1 throwaway)
Red Zone: 2/3 (1 TD)
3rd/4th Down: 8/9 (1 TD, 6 conversions)
Forced Adjustments: 3
Utah was labeled a dark horse candidate to make the college football playoff heading into the season. By and large, Utah’s praise was rooted in a strong, reliable running game spearheaded by Zack Moss and a defense that could at least dominate the Pac-12, if not most of the country. While both of those assumptions have proven true about Utah, it’s been a surprising uptick in efficiency out of quarterback Tyler Huntley that has put them over the top.
Huntley, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior, was not a pillar for Utah’s success previous to 2019. He did enough to allow the skill players to shine and not force the defense into too many difficult situations, but he was more along for the ride than captaining the boat like a quarterback should. That’s all changed in 2019, at least by the numbers. Through nine games, Huntley ranks fifth in the country in both completion percentage (73.8%) and passer rating (182.46). Only Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma), Joe Burrow (LSU), and Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama) top Huntley in both categories. They're all Heisman candidates and future top-100 picks, if not all first-round picks.
While nobody stumbles into this kind of production in the Power 5, it’s worth qualifying Huntley’s achievements as some degree of overachievement. Utah’s skill players have done an excellent job of adjusting to errant passes and a good chunk of the offensive scheme is designed to throw short or directly down the field without much in between. Both factors certainly make Huntley’s job easier and/or more forgiving. Still, it’s on Huntley to get to the right read and he does more often than not, at least in the quick game.
Huntley’s lone touchdown pass against Washington was a perfect example of not needing to be flashy to be effective. On 3rd-and-8 with hardly any points before the half, scoring a touchdown on this drive was a must for Utah. Huntley shifts a receiver from an outside position closer to the formation just before the snap to create a tight bunch to the running back side. While it doesn’t look like a standard four-WR set, it functions like one because all four pass-catchers are so closely grouped together and will be working to the wide side of the field. Utah’s passing concept is designed to create a “rub” with the receiver running a shallow crosser to the right and the other two receiver running vertical stems to clear space underneath. Running back Zack Moss is then sent on a short flat route away from the crosser and underneath the vertical stems. Upon receiving the snap, Huntley immediately realizes Washington No.5, the player who could have the easiest track to Moss, takes on the front man in the trips bunch and carries him up the field. That signals to Huntley that Moss should have room if the ball arrives on time, which proves to be the correct read as Moss struts into the end zone.
That’s not a phenomenal play by Huntley by any means, but to play with such confidence and sound processing in a tough situation is admirable. Veteran quarterbacks like Huntley have to prove that kind of know-how and he’s got it. Huntley keeps the Utah offense chugging at all levels of the field by stringing together plays just like that one.
Where Huntley really adds value is in “gotta have it” situations. On third down, Huntley is one of the best passers in the country. Huntley’s 76.9% completion rate on third down is the highest in the country among active players — Florida’s Feleipe' Franks technically ranks first, but he’s out for the season and only played three games. Huntley also ranks sixth in passer rating on third down. More specifically, Huntley crushed it on third down against the Huskies. Including the clip above, Huntley was accurate on eight of nine third-down passes and converted for a fresh set of downs on six of those attempts.
Here is a 3rd-and-8 (again, somehow) in the middle of the fourth quarter with a chance to pull ahead by two scores. Sure, Utah already have the lead here, but any good quarterback wants to go for the dagger instead of leaning on the defense to close the game out. On this play, Utah’s offensive line bought Huntley an unusual amount of time in the pocket. Utah’s line had been getting blasted all day, but they stood up in this instance, and Huntley milked every second of it to ensure he could get a look he wanted. After a few seconds of scanning the field, Huntley finds wide receiver Solomon Enis and threads his most accurate pass of the day to pick up a new set of downs. Plenty of quarterbacks, even veterans, may have panicked when nothing opened up early, but Huntley bet on himself to find the right throw and it paid off.
Later in the same drive, Huntley came through with a different shade of veteran poise. Rather than just the situational fortitude to remain calm in a stressful third down, the senior quarterback flashed his ability to create under pressure and give his skill players a chance. Though Huntley does not always have the cleanest pocket movement to deal with pressure, he is never scared to try. The willingness alone affords Huntley and his teammates opportunities that would not otherwise be there.
Washington send a safety on a late blitz here, which is a pretty rare concept. Deep, delayed blitzes often take too long to develop to be worthwhile, but with the Huskies stunting their defensive end to that side to the inside of the offensive tackle, the safety gets a free run at the quarterback. The running back should see this and pick it up, but he does not in this instance. By the time Huntley can react to the blitzing safety, his only two options are to let a pass go or bail on passing entirely to scramble. There is no room to slide around the pocket or continue surveying the field. Huntley chooses the former of his two options and lets a pass fly down the field, dropping it right in the bucket beyond the cornerback’s reach and underneath the deep safety. Utah scored three plays later off a trio of Moss runs to go ahead 33-21.
There is a particular attitude required to be an effective quarterback and Huntley has it. Huntley’s innate fearlessness and even-keel, regardless of the situation, keeps Utah’s offense stable for all four quarters in a way that few other offenses can compare to. Because Huntley can always provide a baseline quality of play and stand strong in delicate moments, he is the type of quarterback other players want to rally around.
Through the scope of college football, that’s more than enough. Through the scope of Huntley becoming a professional, it is not. Huntley has plenty of work to do in the finer parts of his game before he can be considered anything behind a priority undrafted free agent.
Utah has a ‘spot’ variant called here that features a flat route, a stick route (in place of the normal spot route), and a corner route. Washington look to be in a Cover 2 shell to the strong side of the formation, which means the cornerback is going to play the gap between the flat route and the corner route. It’s a tough ask for the cornerback and gives the quarterback options to manipulate him one way or another, if it’s even necessary. In this clip, Huntley trots back with his eyes to the corner route. While the cornerback eventually starts to float up, Huntley could have triggered immediately and split the difference between the cornerback and safety. It’s a tough throw, no doubt, but most red zone throws are tight windows and this would have been no exception. Huntley’s other option, if he didn’t want to immediately hit the corner route, would be to come back to the flat route that the cornerback has abandoned. Instead, Huntley stays locked in on the corner route the whole way and hesitates to fire, then loses any chance to do anything as the defensive lineman breaks the pocket to sack him. There is no room for error with regards to wasting time and showing hesitation in the red zone. Huntley has to be sharper.
To circle back to a previous comment, Huntley also struggles to show refined pocket movement. He has no shortage of confidence and fortitude around defenders in the pocket, but knowing how to make use of that is a different story. Huntley too often makes dramatic movements in the pocket or none at all, with precious little nuance in between. The two extremes tend to make his job trickier than it needs to be. Even in the two previous examples of Huntley standing strong in the pocket, be it for an extended period of time or under pressure, he didn't really move anywhere.
Any time a quarterback drops their hips and squares their shoulders to the line of scrimmage, they become a runner. Whether that is their true intention or not, it becomes much tougher to rediscover a proper throwing base after doing so than it is if Huntley simply slid around in the pocket. Huntley turns himself to a runner the moment Washington’s defensive tackle breaks the pocket, even though he could have waited an extra beat by sliding to his right while maintaining passing form. After trying to take off, Huntley quickly realizes there is actually nowhere to go and fires a haphazard, inaccurate passer over the middle to a wide-open target. If Huntley wants to grow into an NFL passer, his pocket management can not be an all-or-nothing affair. He has to show moments of nuance and maximizing the space/time afforded to him.
As Huntley’s NFL draft stock stands now, it’s tough to imagine he will even get an invite to the Senior Bowl in January. That’s not to say Huntley is worse than everyone who will get invited, necessarily, but he isn’t exceptional enough to ensure a look over some of the other guys in his talent range. That’s probably more a fault of the NFL than anything else (heck, if Brandon Silvers can make the Senior Bowl, Huntley should certainly get a shot), but it is what it is.
Huntley will have to show out for the rest of the season and lead Utah to a Pac-12 title to earn serious consideration as a potential draft pick. For now, Huntley is an ancillary piece on an excellent football team, rather than the engine that powers said football team. Expect Huntley to be part of the NFL draft circuit this offseason, but not as someone contending to be a top-150 pick.