SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Troy Williams was one of the most anticipated incoming recruits in recent Utah history.
The Utes passing game had consistently been one of the worst in the Pac-12 since they joined the league in 2011 and Williams was transferring in after being rated the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the nation by Rivals after his senior year of high school.
The junior started every game in 2016 with mixed results. Utah finished No. 9 in the Pac-12 with 216.9 passing yards per game and major red zone issues that left them ranked No. 115 in the nation in scoring percentage. But the former Washington signee also led Utah to a 7-1 start and was putting them in position to win the Pac-12 South before a 1-3 finish dashed those hopes.
Williams was a leader from the moment he stepped on campus, was named a captain and was routinely the last player off the practice field. He wants to finish the season strong with a win over Indiana (6-6) in the Foster Farms Bowl on Dec. 28, but he also has an eye on 2017.
''Of course next year is in the back of my head,'' Williams said. ''I'm thinking about it day-in and day-out. I just want to take care of business first and get a win. For next year, make sure I go all out in everything I do and just have a lot better year than I did this year.''
Coach Kyle Whittingham thought it took three or four games before Williams truly settled in. He threw three interceptions in a one-point win against BYU and another against San Jose State in the last two nonconference games. But he had just three more the rest of the season. Williams finished the regular season with 2,579 yards - the No. 12 best single season in school history - 15 touchdowns and a 53.4 completion percentage.
''Stopped trying to do too much, trying to make plays when there wasn't one there to be made,'' Whittingham said about Williams' progress. ''Better decisions. Took better care of the ball. So we just think that he got better as the season went along. He's a good athlete and a good quarterback. We think he's going to continue to trend upward in a positive direction.''
There was one facet of Williams' game that was missing most of the season - the run game. He was mobile in the pocket and created time by slipping out of the pocket, but he rarely looked to run - even if the opportunity seemed to be there. That was expected to be a significant part of his skill-set.
Williams explained that he sprained his MCL against USC in Week 4 and was never the same. Minimizing risk to remain on the field became a priority with freshman Tyler Huntley being the only other quarterback on the roster.
''I was just trying to stay to my progressions as much as I could,'' Williams said. ''I feel like I could have run a lot more. My knee, it really wasn't a big issue. I probably lost a little bit of explosiveness. I'm not making any excuses. I probably should have run the ball a lot more. That's just my main focus on what I should improve on going into next year.''
Williams' path has been winding and next year is expected be his last. Things didn't work out at Washington after Chris Petersen was hired and he was humbled by playing for a year at Santa Monica College without a scholarship. He gained more confidence as the season progressed, but the Utes' pass-catchers were unspectacular outside of oft-injured senior Tim Patrick.
The desire to make an impression on the NFL will be present and he'll have to improve his accuracy and red-zone decisions. And, again, there will hope from Utah fans for an offense that is a true threat in what Whittingham likes to call the ''throw game.''
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