It appears Kendal Thompson will get a second chance to prove he can lead Utah's offense.
Thompson filled in for starting quarterback Travis Wilson on Friday night after Wilson left the game with a sprained shoulder in the second quarter of Utah's 24-14 victory over in-state rival Utah State. The senior threw for 56 yards on 8-of-10 passing and rushed for 23 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
Utah released its weekly depth chart on Monday and Thompson is listed as the co-starter with Wilson at quarterback. Wilson is expected to sit out against Fresno State on Saturday, though he could return to play in the Utes' Pac-12 opener at Oregon the following week. This means, at least for now, the job of directing the offense belongs to Thompson.
Taking over for Wilson is not new ground for Thompson. He made a pair of starts at quarterback for Utah in 2014. Thompson earned a start against Oregon State after leading the Utes to a 30-28 victory over UCLA. He made his second start a few weeks later in a 51-27 loss to Oregon. Thompson's brief stint at no. 1 on the depth chart came to an end when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Ducks.
Thompson was limited throughout spring ball as he rehabilitated the knee and was not at full strength until fall camp. Just getting out on the field again felt like another battle won.
“After a long recovery, it felt really good to get out and play football,” Thompson said. “I honestly didn't know how it would feel once I got out there and took a hit — but it felt great.”
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Thompson could get plenty more chances to enjoy running, passing and taking hits. Wilson's injury is not season-ending according to Utes coach Kyle Whittingham, but the senior could still be sidelined an indefinite amount of time.
Wilson left the game shortly after injuring his shoulder while running for a 4-yard gain that set up a 4-yard touchdown by Devontae Booker on the following play, giving Utah a 14-7 lead. Wilson came back from the locker room in the second half in street clothes. He had a bag of ice on his left shoulder and his arm in a sling.
Whittingham does not expect much to change with Thompson on the field instead of Wilson.
“They're both extremely intelligent,” Whittingham said. “They both fit our system really well. There's more common ground than there is differences, so there won't be a dramatic change regardless of who's in there.”
If Wilson is sidelined for multiple games, Thompson's experience from a year ago gives Whittingham confidence that Utah can be successful at moving the ball with him taking the snaps.
“He won some big games for us last year,” Whittingham said. “He was doing some really good things before he went down with his injury. If he’s our guy next week, and Travis isn’t ready to go, he’ll be better than he was tonight because he’ll be the guy all through practice and preparation. He’s a proven commodity in our eyes.”
Thompson threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns on 32-of-52 passing as a junior after transferring to Utah from Oklahoma. He also ran for 192 yards and another TD on 56 carries.
Thompson offers a trade-off in strengths with Wilson. His accuracy and arm strength does not match what Wilson can do in the passing game. Thompson is mobile and speedy, however, and this leads to a running ability that mirrors Wilson's effectiveness as a passer. He thrives in running the option and can burn a team when seams open up.
“For me, the thing is just making plays, whether I have to run the ball 20 times or throw the ball 20 times,” Thompson said. “I'll do whatever it takes. At this level of football, the name of the game is moving the chains. By any means necessary, I'll do that.”
With Thompson at the controls, Utah will likely rely on Booker to be the main engine to move the offense – like so many times last season. Still, Thompson believes he can make a positive impact as a dual-threat quarterback in his second year in the Utes' offense.
"When I went down against Oregon last year, I felt like I was playing well," Thompson said. "The game had finally slowed down for me. I was making correct reads and things like that. The game plan was built to my skill set."
Utah hopes that remains the case for as long as Thompson needs to fill in as the starting quarterback.
— Written by John Coon,who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.