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Despite personnel shakeups, Utah’s offense hitting its stride

Utah’s offense will look different when Washington faces it for the second time in Friday’s Pac-12 championship game.

It will also look the same.

Because of injuries, there will be some new faces on the field for the Utes — mainly backup quarterback Jason Shelley and running back Armand Shine. Despite the shakeups, the Utes have won their last three games over Oregon, Colorado and BYU.

Part of the success, Petersen said, is because it doesn’t matter much which players are on the field offensively. And that’s a credit to the program head coach Kyle Whittingham has built.

“They’re similar,” Petersen said. “I mean, those other guys (have) more experience. Those are the guys that they’ve had for a long time. But these guys, like I said, they’ve done a nice job recruiting to their system. They’re very, very similar type players. And I think the results show.”

Shelley, a redshirt freshman, has been starting ever since Tyler Huntley broke his collarbone in the second half of the Utes’ loss to Arizona State on Nov. 3.

Huntley passed for 1,788 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine games. Shelley has played in seven total games this season, starting the last three. In those three games, he’s thrown for 624 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns.

“Very similar to Huntley in that they both have strong arms, they can throw the football downfield,” said Huskies defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, “but they also might just do a quarterback designed run and he’ll run for 40 yards.”

Running back Zack Moss has also missed the last three games becaus of a season-ending injury. During that time, junior Armand Shine has stepped in. He’s averaged 19.3 carries and 92 yards per game over the span, including rushing for 174 yards on 26 carries against Oregon.

“Their run scheme has changed a little since we played them,” Lake said. “They’ve really evolved into a for-sure, run-first offense.”

History of the double pass

One of the highlights from UW’s 28-15 Apple Cup victory over Washington State was the double pass from Jake Browning to Aaron Fuller to Hunter Bryant for a touchdown.

It’s a trick play that has often been successful for the Huskies, even if the attempt that stands out to offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan was intercepted against Arizona State earlier this season.

Even so, the play has worked almost every time the Huskies have tried it. Hamdan explained why on Tuesday.

“I think just by the nature of it with how fast maybe the ball gets out, a lot of people think it’s a screen,” Hamdan said. “Again, we get these aggressive defenses, certainly playing with their eyes, misdirection, can be critical.”

Said Petersen: “I think we stole it from Colorado State way back in the day. I think they got our defense on it a couple of times and we worked on it a bunch. So it’s like, ‘Are you kidding me? Did we not show you that?’ When you know you’re working on it and it still works, you probably got something good going.”

There is a competition between receivers to see who will run the play, Petersen said, and there are always a few options that surface.

Both Petersen and Hamdan were asked which receiver stood out in the role. Petersen didn’t know who had the best arm, but he said former UW receiver Dante Pettis was able to tuck the ball and run when necessary to avoid losing yards.

“Which to me is as impressive as just throwing the ball,” Petersen said.

Hamdan pointed to Dante’s cousin, Austin Pettis, who played at Boise State.

“I just remember Austin vividly making a throw like that with a guy in his face,” Hamdan said, “taking a shot and getting up and thinking playing quarterback was easy.”

Where to play?

On Wednesday, Petersen was asked for his opinion on the location and time of the Pac-12 championship game.

The game has been held in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., since 2014. This year, it’s a 5 p.m. kickoff on a Friday, which could make traveling difficult for fans. Before the championship moved to Santa Clara, it was held at the home stadium of the team with the better record.

But Petersen doesn’t know if that’s the answer, either.

“Then it’s such a disadvantage for the lower seed,” Petersen said. “Maybe even a little more important than that is just the logistics. I think that’s the biggest problem that they have is the quick turnaround when so many people are going to come one day.

“The last week, these things could’ve gone a lot of different ways so you can’t really start preparing. I kind of see that as the biggest problem.”

The championship should always be about the fans, Petersen said.

“The games are so special when these stadiums are packed and your fanbase is there, it’s awesome,” Petersen said. “It’s completely different when they’re not.”

Extra points

Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven was named the Pac-12 football scholar athlete of the year on Wednesday. Burr-Kirven is a comparative literature (cinema studies) major with a 3.69 grade point average. He also leads the nation with 155 tackles and is second in tackles per game with 12.9. … Petersen didn’t offer any update on defensive lineman Jared Hilbers, who was injured against Washington State or running back Kamari Pleasant, who missed games against Oregon State and the Cougars with an injury.

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