OC'S CORNER

O’Connell: Tyler Huntley Is The Best Quarterback In Pac-12

Nov 3, 2019, 2:33 PM
Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) runs against the Washington Huskies in Seattle on Saturday,...
Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) runs against the Washington Huskies in Seattle on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Utah won 33-28. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Is Tyler Huntley the best quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference?

Sorry. I wrote that wrong…

Tyler Huntley is the best quarterback in the Pac-12 Conference.

At least up to this point of the season, this is true. Or true enough, as it were. I suppose it all depends on which metrics you rely on the most. If you love things like QBR and adjusted completion percentage, Tyler Huntley’s only rival in the Pac-12 would be Anthony Gordon of Washington State.

If you are more of a football absolutist and you want to focus only on win totals and touchdown passes, we have to talk about Justin Herbert. If you approach the “best QB in the Pac-12” debate with total yards in mind, you start to consider Jayden Daniels, who has the Sun Devils in the mix even as a freshman. If you want to talk about ethereal concepts like NFL upside and “pure talent” Huntley probably doesn’t crack the top 4 when compared to his conference counterparts.

But if you’re like me; and you rely on a combination of analytics and what your own eyes tell you while watching a football game, you arrive at a place that is almost foreign to Utah football fans. It hasn’t been the case for at least ten years, but in 2019 the University of Utah Utes have the best quarterback in their conference.

What Stands Out On Film

Huntley’s efficiency numbers are fantastic, of course. He is currently top 10 in the country in; completion percentage (5th), passer efficiency rating (6th) and yards per completion (10th). His TD-INT ratio, and overall QBR are on par with the best QB’s Utah has ever had.

If you are an “analytics guy,” Huntley’s body of work in 2019 gives you plenty of numerical support for the argument that he deserves national respect. But those numbers aren’t the reason that I am comfortable calling Tyler Huntley the best QB in the Pac-12 conference. Offensive stats are too-often affected by the whims of coordinators and coaches or driven by scheme or necessity to be relied on completely.

If you want to find the real evidence in support of Tyler Huntley’s greatness this year, go back and watch the Washington film. Observe in slow motion as he carries the ball on a hobbled leg against rapidly closing defenders and extends toward the pylon, fully accepting the thunderous hit that he will undoubtedly receive (arguably and illegal helmet-to-helmet blow) while still maintaining sure possession to score for his team.

Better yet, jump to back-to-back third and long situations where Huntley ripped off chunk pass plays with the game on the line. Even go back to the USC film, and watch as he repeatedly extends plays by scrambling, sidestepping, and ducking out of pressures, all while keeping his eyes downfield. That game resulted in a loss, as we all know, but it was one of the more impressive under-duress performances you will see this season.

Herbert vs. Huntley

As you watch the film on Huntley, it’s also important to remember that if the Utes are still catching up to the rest of the Pac-12 in any area, it’s in pass-catching talent. With all due respect to those young men and the phenomenal job Guy Holliday has done building and improving his group, the Utes do not have anybody that goes up and gets jump balls like Michael Pittman Jr. or Isaiah Hodgins.

Solomon Enis deserves credit for some great adjustment catches, Thompson and Dixon have shown flashes of elite separation skills at times, but I still think it’s fair to say that Huntley is doing more with less than many of his fellow Pac-12 quarterbacks. Huntley has been guilty of a handful of underthrown balls, but in most cases, he is completing contested passes based on his throw rather than the talent of the pass-catcher.

Of course the argument for Justin Herbert needs to be heard. Herbert finally had his “big boy” moments against Washington. He is universally regarded as having the higher NFL ceiling, with a cannon arm and freakish measurables that Huntley can’t touch no matter how many extra calories he chokes down. Herbert came into the season bearing the weight of unrealistic expectations, while Huntley carried the burden of unrealized potential and inconsistency.

Now, both senior QB’s must fight the battle of perception based on the same problem – their elite teammates. For Herbert, the numbers are not sexy enough because his team doesn’t need them to be. The Oregon offensive line is perhaps the best in the entire country. Mario Cristobal does not ask his QB to go win games with his arm often because he doesn’t need to. Oregon has seldom played from behind this season, their defense has been excellent, so all Herbert has done is stay in his lane, take care of the football, and lead his team to a top-10 ranking this season.

For the national pundits who don’t stay up late enough to watch Oregon Football, Herbert’s season is underwhelming because his numbers don’t look like those of Joe Burrow or Jalen Hurts. He will be left out of the Heisman conversation largely because he is doing exactly what his team needs him to do and nothing more. The consolation for Herbert is that he’s widely regarded as the best QB in the Pac-12 because those same pundits already knew his name before the season began.

Tyler Huntley faces a remarkably similar uphill battle because his longtime friend and teammate Zack Moss is just so darn good that everyone assumes the Utes improved offensive output should be attributed solely to No. 2. Even Utah fans are hesitant to accept that they just might have an elite QB and elite RB on the same team! At the same time! (It’s okay. Just embrace it)

Why Huntley Is The Best In Pac-12

The reason I give Huntley a slight nod over Herbert is because of those things that don’t appear on stat sheets. Huntley finds himself under pressure more often, yet still finds a way to move the ball. More importantly, he still does a great job of taking care of the ball, avoiding turnovers like a true son of Whittingham.

He is not close to 100 percent healthy, which means his mobility and scrambling ability are compromised, yet he has developed his game to a point where he can still be remarkably effective. My last point in favor of Huntley over Herbert is perhaps unfair to Herbert. But with Oregon trailing late to Auburn and driving. Justin Herbert had a shot at the end zone on a 35-yard pass (something his arm is more than capable of) and he sailed the ball into the stands.

The Oregon QB was given an extreme test, and did not pass. Huntley has yet to be presented with such a challenge/opportunity. Still, I am giving the benefit of the doubt because of everything else he has done this year.

I know it looks strange to read. I’m sure it’s nearly impossible to believe. But Tyler Huntley is the best QB in the Pac-12 Football Conference.

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