PULLMAN – Travis Wilson is the most important player on Utah’s football team and will be the biggest reason why Utah makes its first bowl game since 2011.
Three games into his junior season, the quarterback has completed more than 65 percent of his passes and thrown for seven touchdowns without an interception. He may be 6-foot-7, but he’s hardly immobile – he averaged more than 40 rushing yards per game last season and is always willing to tuck and run.
Perhaps too willing.
You’ll have to forgive Utes coach Kyle Whittingham if he cringes a bit when his lanky quarterback starts to sprint through the teeth of a defense, long hair leaving an easy trail for the unprepared eye to follow.
Wilson has started for Whittingham since midway through the quarterback’s true freshman season in 2012. In that time the coach has seen his QB take 158 hits, miss time because of an injury to his throwing hand and nearly had his career ended last season because of the discovery of an intracranial arterial condition.
It was discovered during a CT scan Wilson underwent after suffering a concussion against Arizona State.
Whittingham would like his quarterback to exhibit a reasonable degree of caution when deciding to put his body in harm’s way.
“We certainly don’t want him to do what happened on Saturday,” Whittingham said. “We had a long discussion about that. Be more judicious on when to leave your feet and when not to leave your feet.”
What happened during the Utes’ 26-10 sacking of Michigan at the Big House was a midair collision that immediately conjured up the notion that Wilson’s career could be over for the second time, just three games after receiving medical clearance to get back under center.
On a broken play, Wilson rushed to the sideline to avoid a sack and perhaps salvage a couple of yards. But he couldn’t outrun a Michigan defender who dove at Wilson’s airborne legs, flipping his body upside down.
Another defender collided with the quarterback’s upended midsection, crashing him into the ground head-first and separating his helmet from his head, which skidded a few feet across the turf unprotected.
The collective gasps of Utes fans gave way to glee when Wilson returned in the second half, with some facial stitches, to finish off a transformative win and preserve Utah’s unbeaten record.
“I’m not going to change the way I play football or the mentality of how I play football,” Wilson said.
And “the flip,” as it’s being referred to in Salt Lake City, illustrated that while Utah’s quarterback received a firsthand experience in the fragility of football this offseason, he certainly didn’t learn his lesson and has no plans to reign in his brash playing style.
“He’s definitely not more tentative,” Whittingham said. “He’s an aggressive guy. His reckless abandon is a little over the top at times.”
The Utes hope he’s just over the top enough to carry them to a bowl game.
They’re already halfway there, and a win on Saturday against Washington State would put Utah in great position to finally achieve the goal.
“It’s a big negative for us to miss out the last couple years,” Wilson said. “It’s definitely frustrating. It’s hard not to be able to finish out last year and stuff like that, but this year’s a new year. Obviously it’s frustrating at times, but I’m really excited with how this team is going so far.”
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