It’s still uncertain when injured Cam Rising will return for Utah, but the No. 12 Utes would have a new starting quarterback regardless on Saturday when they host unbeaten Weber State in Salt Lake City.
After leading Utah to a 20-13 win in the Texas heat at Baylor last Saturday, freshman Nate Johnson has been promoted to the QB1 position for the final non-conference game if, as expected, Rising is unable to go.
Johnson would replace previous starter Bryson Barnes, who filled in for Rising until being replaced midway through the comeback win over the Bears.
Johnson helped the Utes (2-0) turn a one-touchdown deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter into a second win over an FBS team, finishing with 82 yards on 6-of-7 passing, a game-tying touchdown keeper and 32 yards on 11 rushes.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham announced Monday that Johnson will take over while Rising continues to work his way back from offseason knee surgery.
“I would say based on the whole body of work that we’ve seen, Nate deserves the chance. He’ll be the starter if Cam’s not available,” Whittingham said. “That’s where we’re at, that’s after a lot of evaluation and giving everybody the opportunity to show what they can do. Nate was very poised on that last drive. I think he made some outstanding decisions, outstanding plays.”
Utah trailed 13-6 midway through the fourth quarter in Waco, Texas, when Johnson led the squad on a 15-play, 85-yard drive to tie the game 13-13 on a 7-yard keeper with 1:59 left. The Utes went ahead 20-13 on an 11-yard run by Jaylon Glover after Cole Bishop intercepted a Baylor pass.
Ja’Quinden Jackson also made a strong impression against Baylor, rushing for a career-high 129 yards on 19 carries.
However, Utah will be without No. 2 running back Micah Bernard, who is out for the season due to an unspecified injury.
Weber State (2-0) enters this in-state game as the seventh-ranked FCS team in the AFCA Coaches Poll. The Wildcats won 34-17 at Northern Iowa on Saturday by compiling 390 yards of offense and creating six turnovers.
Damon Bankston (144 yards rushing, three touchdowns) and Jack Kelly (four tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, one tipped pass) earned Big Sky Conference Player of the Week awards for their performances against Northern Iowa.
Utah has won the previous six meetings against Weber State, including 40-17 in 2021.
“They are who they are, and they don’t shy away from that, no matter who the quarterback is, what guys they have banged up. I think that’s a true testament of a great program,” Weber State coach Mickey Mental said of Utah. “Obviously, Coach Whitt and his staff recruit to who they are. They win physically, violent, and run the football and play really good defense and special teams. It will be a really great test for us.”
Utah, which has wins over Florida and Baylor so far, will begin its Pac-12 schedule next week vs. No. 24 UCLA.
“Still trying to get guys healthy; that’s an ongoing challenge,” Whittingham said. “But we’re in pretty good position right now after two (Power 5) games of coming away with two victories and ready to move on.”
–Field Level Media