The first thing you need to know about the Utah and BYU starting quarterbacks is that they’re seniors.
The second is that they’re unabashed leaders, unafraid to speak their mind — even when others may hold it against them.
Third, both have highly touted freshman quarterbacks behind them on the depth chart breathing down their necks, and waiting for them to make one false move. Well, that might be overstating it a bit, but it is somewhat true.
And fourth, neither was expected to play one down of Division I college football at their respective schools; it just turned out that way — and it’s been a blessing for both.
So here’s what you’ll likely see out of the quarterback play on Saturday in the latest rendition of the Holy War.
Depth chart: Jon Hays, Travis Wilson, Adam Schulz
Hays is the guy who shouldn’t be a starter at Utah, so says almost every pundit from here to the moon. There’s only one problem with that theory. Jordan Wynn no longer plays football, having retired from the game after one too many shoulder injuries, and Wilson simply may not be ready for 60 minutes per game of brutal college football with his skinny 6-foot-6, 190 pound frame.
Enter Hays, a JUCO transfer of a year ago who enrolled at Nebraska-Omaha — only to find that the football program went kaput, leaving him with no program.
After Wynn started having problems with his shoulder, enter the Utes, who were forced, more or less, to find a suitable backup in case something bad went wrong.
It did, and in came Hays to the Utah program at the last possible minute. It didn’t take long before Hays took first-team snaps — eventually leading the Utes to a second place finish in the Pac-12 South division and a win in the Sun Bowl.
Not bad for a kid who never dreamed he would be here in the first place, right? Based on the fact it was Hays who nearly led the Utes to victory last week after Wynn went out with his career ending injury — you would have to think Hays is the guy this Saturday.
He threw for 154 yards and one touchdown last Friday in Logan. Wilson is 3-for-3 in passing for 49 yards and one touchdown himself, but again his action has been limited to short sets and special packages.
It seems like the Utes have confidence in Hays — and his effort last week certainly made folks wonder if the coaches made the right choice in starting Wynn, didn’t it? Schulz has a cannon for an arm but he is really just there in case the other two go down.
Best-case scenario, however, is that Hays is the starter — because you have to believe it gives the Utes their best chance to win.
Depth chart: Riley Nelson, James Lark, Taysom Hill
For how cerebral and bright Riley Nelson is off the field, it is amazing some of the asinine things he does on.
Instead of sliding after getting a first down, for example, Nelson simply lowers his head and looks for contact. Its as if he becomes another person when he’s on the field, taking on anyone who dares question his motive — which is to win games.
And win he has, despite all the naysayers pointing to the fact that he wasn’t Jake Heaps, the former prodigal son Nelson replaced.
No Utah college football quarterback has had to endure more scrutiny than Nelson, a Logan High product who played at Utah State before transferring to BYU — and whose father was the Aggies’ team physician.
And then to have to replace someone like Heaps who was literally groomed to be the next great BYU quarterback — and handle it with such aplomb — has been remarkable.
And all he’s done is win in his career. He’s enjoying a great start to his senior year, throwing for 529 yards and three touchdowns at a whopping 67 percent completion rate. Lark is the backup and Hill is used much like Wilson, in that he’s only featured in short sets.
The seniors are set to go mano e mano this Saturday in what really is an interesting matchup between two who were once unheralded but were then forced into action due to poor play and injuries from the quarterbacks they replaced.
Both Hays and Nelson stand just 6 feet in height but their play has inspired many. Hays is a much different player than Nelson, however, in that he is a pocket passer while Nelson prefers to roll out and find his open receiver.
But the two share so many traits in common that it’s scary. And it just goes to show you that you should never give up on your dream — because if Hays and Nelson did, they certainly wouldn’t be playing quarterback today.
For more on the Holy War football rivalry, stay tuned to quadrust.com