SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah coach Kyle Whittingham won’t name his starting quarterback against Fresno State, but several signs point to Kendal Thompson.
Travis Wilson won the fall competition and started the first two games, but injured a shoulder against Utah State and left in the second quarter. His non-throwing arm was in a sling with ice afterward.
The 21st-ranked Utes (2-0) brought Thompson to Monday’s press conference instead of Wilson and Whittingham thoroughly talked about what the quarterback would bring to the table - if he plays Saturday. Wilson dressed and practiced Tuesday, but a request to talk to the senior was denied and media were told questions to other players about who would start were off limits.
“If he’s our quarterback, things will be tailored to him, but we’ll find out,” Whittingham said. “Some things are not certain right now. What you want to do, no matter who the quarterback is, is play to his strengths and set things up to fit his skill set. We’ll just see how the week progresses.”
Whittingham said there’s not a dramatic difference between the quarterbacks. Both are mobile, though Thompson is a little better runner. Wilson is the more polished pocket passer.
There won’t be dramatic changes to the offense if Thompson is on the field, but the coaching staff would take advantage of his strengths - which is his legs.
“The thing with me, I like the option game,” Thompson said. “I feel it is a strength of mine. I like to use my legs, obviously. There’s no big difference in the passing schemes or running schemes, really.”
Thompson has been here before. He didn’t beat out Wilson for the job last year, but was named the starter twice when Wilson struggled. He started against Oregon and drove Utah to a touchdown on the opening drive, but suffered a season-ending injury in the first quarter.
Thompson went 8 for 10 with 56 passing yards and ran for 23 yards and a touchdown after replacing Wilson against Utah State last week. Those were his first game snaps since getting hurt against Oregon. Thompson said a week of preparation makes a huge difference in his play.
“That’s what benefited me going into the Oregon game last year,” Thompson said. “You get a lot more practice reps. You get a game plan built around things you feel comfortable with and schemes that you like reading out. That’ll play a huge part in moving forward with whatever the coach decides.
“For me, the thing is just making plays whether I have to run the ball 20 times or throw the ball 20 times. I’ll do whatever it takes. At this level of football, the name of the game is moving the chains and by any means necessary I’ll do that.”
The Utah offense has been steady through two games, but far from explosive. Wilson played well, but the Utes haven’t gotten much production from their outside receivers. Running back Devontae Booker has 189 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but Utah expects more. The Utes’ offense has left much to be desired.
Thompson admitted he was disappointed to not win the job in the fall, but he didn’t pout. He tried to stay ready for anything, knowing how the 2014 season played out. And Thompson knows people question his passing ability.
“I can’t really say anything because I have to go out there and show it,” Thompson said. “I think everyone within these walls already know that.”
Linebacker Gionni Paul, who was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, is one of those within the walls. He raved about Thompson’s intelligence both on and off the field, in addition to the physical skills.
“He’s a hard quarterback to read,” Paul said. “You never know what he’s thinking. He’s unpredictable. He’s very good on his feet. Very quick in space. Very hard to tackle. He’s one of the best mobile quarterbacks I’ve faced in a long time.”
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