Utah Should Go With Upside At QB, Start Nate Johnson Against Florida

Aug 27, 2023, 1:17 PM


Utah's Nate Johnson (13) takes the ball into the end zone for a touchdown as Utah and Arizona play at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. (Courtesy of Deseret News)

(Courtesy of Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – The biggest question surrounding Utah in fall camp and now in game week is about the health of the quarterback situation for the Utes.

Starter Cam Rising has been limited all of camp and head coach Kyle Whittingham has said that the QB has been “on schedule.” What does “on schedule” mean? ACL tears take a while to heal and it will be about eight months from the Rose Bowl injury to the Utes’ opener against the Florida Gators.

Rising has been practicing but all of the coaches have said he has been limited and even missing practices. Whittingham is guarding the info tightly so as not to give the Gators an edge for the opener.

“We’re keeping things somewhat close to the vest just because but I don’t know if in the final analysis if it’s a big deal or not. But we are truly unsettled right now,” Whittingham said. “There really is no deception at this point, we’re just seeing how things progress day-by-day.”

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Basically, it will be right up until kickoff and similar to when Bryson Barnes earned the start vs. Washington State last year.

“Yeah, there will be a cutoff date,” he said. “Probably 10 minutes before kickoff. If he’s not ready to go then we will go with Plan B.”

Whittingham and the Utes released a depth chat with Rising as the starting quarterback but that move seems more wish-casting that Rising will be the starter with Barnes as the backup.

Should Utah Go With Potential Star Nate Johnson?

With all the info from fall camp about Rising, all signs likely point to the senior not being ready for the game vs. Florida. 

Over the second half of camp, coaches have said that the backup quarterback situation has been close between Nate Johnson and Barnes. Everyone knows what Barnes can do at the position.

He is a serviceable quarterback and capable of playing pretty well. Barnes came in cold off the bench in the Rose Bowl vs. Ohio State and nearly led the Utes to a comeback. He also earned a win against Washington State but against Penn State in last year’s Rose Bowl, he was put in a tough spot and struggled.

Unrivaled’s Scott Mitchell wants the Utes to go with upside and potential and put Johnson under center in the opener.

“Nate Johnson is a guy that can be a game-changer,” Mitchell said. “He might be the guy I start. He may be rough around the edges and has some moxie, he has some game experience, not a lot, but he is a guy if he gets in trouble can bail himself out. That is the luxury of having a quarterback who is mobile and a dual-threat.”

“You have Bryson Barnes he is at his ceiling, you are not going to get a lot more from Bryson Barnes, and you know what you are going to get with constancy and won’t screw things up for you,” he said. “His ceiling is probably where Nate Johnson’s floor is. The only way for that to come out is to go play games. Nate Johnson may be your best option…and it could be the beginning of the Nate Johnson era at Utah.”

This would be a bold move for Whittingham who usually plays it safe in his coaching ability. It is always consistent. He is a proven winner and one of the best coaches in college football.

Starting Johnson would very much be out of Whittingham’s comfort zone. Florida is not projected to be a fantastic team this year. The Gators are picked fifth in the SEC East, so putting in Johnson might not be a make-or-break decision against a team that Utah could beat regardless of who they put under center.

As Mitchell said, the Utes might be surprised by Johnson and say, “We had know idea he could do this.”

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Utah Should Go With Upside At QB, Start Nate Johnson Against Florida