Redshirt freshman Jason Shelley is making his first career start for the injured Tyler Huntley
Oregon’s defense has had to double-down on quarterback film study the past two weeks.
Due to injuries to regular dual-threat starters Khalil Tate and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the Ducks also spent time preparing for backup pocket passers Rhett Rodriguez and Wilton Speight.
Tate returned from an ankle injury to lead Arizona to a 44-15 romp over Oregon in Tucson on Oct. 27. Thompson-Robinson struggled after returning from an unspecified upper body injury before Chip Kelly replaced him with Speight during the Bruins’ 42-21 loss at Autzen Stadium.
Now Jim Leavitt’s defense is bracing for the unknown in Utah quarterback Jason Shelley, a redshirt freshman who will be making his first career start Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium (2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
The Utes (6-3, 4-3) were seemingly in control of the South Division until losing starting quarterback Tyler Huntley to a season-ending collarbone injury during last week’s costly loss at Arizona State.
Shelley was a prep phenom in football-crazed Texas, passing for over 10,000 yards and rushing for over 4,000 yards during his career, which included leading Lone Star High (Frisco, Texas) to a state title.
“He’s a lot like Huntley,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “He can throw it all over the place, he’s very accurate. He can throw the deep ball, he can throw the intermediate stuff, he can get the ball out quick to the perimeter and he can run.
“Everything we saw in high school is very similar to what he’s doing now. So the transition for him going to start, I’m sure is seamless.”
Despite losing Huntley and facing a potential NFL first-round draft pick in Justin Herbert, Utah is a 4 1/2-point favorite in Las Vegas.
The Ducks (6-3, 3-3) were outscored 50-8 in the first halves of their back-to-back road losses at Washington State and Arizona last month.
“It’s never the best team that wins, it’s the team that plays the best,” Oregon defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said. “We’ve got to go out there and do what we do, and that’s got to reflect in the way we practice this week.”
Shelley, who is listed at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, is 6-for-14 passing for 99 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in limited snaps off the bench. He also has nine carries for 47 yards.
Huntley was completing 64.1 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He had also rushed for six touchdowns.
"He has a very calm demeanor about him. Nothing really gets him flustered, he is cool under pressure,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of Shelley. “He ran this type of offense in high school very efficiently and did a great job. This is his element, the spread offense.
“We are excited to see what he can do. We will have a full week of getting him the No. 1 reps and see what happens. We have a lot of confidence in him."
True freshman Steven Jones (left tackle) and Brady Aiello (right tackle) are expected to start at Utah, but Cristobal said backup right guard Jacob Capra, backup center Alex Forsyth and junior George Moore have also been getting meaningful reps at the tackle positions this week.
Oregon will have to reshuffle the starting lineup again with center Jake Hanson suspended for the first half for a targeting penalty against UCLA. Starting left tackle Calvin Throckmorton will be snapping the ball to Herbert in the first half.
“He’s going to have to be the guy for 30 minutes before Jake gets in there,” Cristobal said of Throckmorton, who hasn’t allowed a sack in his last 2,016 snaps.
The Ducks lost their original starting left tackle, true freshman Penei Sewell, to injury during the win over Washington on Oct. 13.
“Let’s call it what it is, he’s one of the top linemen not only in the Pac-12 but the country,” Cristobal said of Sewell, who is expected to miss the rest of the regular season after starting the first six games. “And when you lose a guy like that and the running game was gelling, well, you have to find answers and solutions. It took is a couple weeks to find the right combination.
“We felt really good about the way things went last week rushing for 200 yards (against UCLA) and getting back on track.”
Honors for Herbert
Herbert is one of 10 finalists for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award.
Oregon’s junior quarterback has completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,333 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Herbert’s streak of throwing at least one touchdown pass in 24 consecutive games is the nation’s longest.
The Unitas award is for upperclassmen who are scheduled to graduate with their class. Some other notable finalists include West Virginia’s Will Grier, Penn State’s Trace McSorley, Missouri’s Drew Lock and Washington State’s Gardner Mnshew.
The O’Brien Award semifinalists include notable underclassmen Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State).
Marcus Mariota won the Unitas and O’Brien Awards before becoming Oregon’s only Heisman Trophy winner in 2014.
The Pac-12 Networks crew for Saturday’s telecast includes Ted Robinson (play-by-play), Yogi Roth (analyst) and Jill Savage (reporter). … A kickoff time and network for Oregon’s home finale against Arizona State on Nov. 17 will be announced Saturday night or Sunday. … The Civil War on Nov. 23 in Corvallis is set for a 1 p.m. kickoff on Fox Sports 1.
“He’s an inspiration to everybody,” Cristobal said of senior linebacker Kaulana Apelu, who suffered a fractured leg for the second consecutive season. “It’s safe to say he fought through that injury for as long and as hard as he could before he came out of the game because you can’t tell on the outside. He’s invaluable. I love him, I really do. He’s what you want your son to be.”