Travis Wilson’s long, shaggy hair and lanky build give him the appearance of a volleyball player more so than a quarterback. It’s not completely out of the question as the sophomore out of San Clemente has played some volleyball.
But he is, in fact, the leader of the Utes offense.
The 12th-ranked Bruins are gearing up to face Wilson in Salt Late City, Thursday night in their Pac-12 opener, and Wilson is now public enemy No. 1 in Westwood.
Wilson is an efficient passer and a strong runner, used similar to the way former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was last season. At 6-foot-7, he’s much taller than the running quarterbacks the Bruins have faced, and his arm angle and unconventional delivery can be difficult for the defense to pick up.
“He’s a different style of runner,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos.
“However, the result is the same if not greater. He’s made a lot of touchdowns, a lot of long runs and he’s a good runner. He’s a tall runner but he gets a lot of yards and they do a nice job with him.”
Wilson stepped up as a true freshman last season, replacing the injured Jordan Wynn. And while he did well in his first season, he’s playing like a seasoned pro right now.
He’s averaging 62.8 yards per game and can break off on long runs — his longest is 51 yards — and has scored five rushing touchdowns. But he’s just as strong in the pocket, completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 1,118 yards and nine touchdowns. Wilson’s instincts are good and he’s impressed the entire Bruins’ defense during film sessions over the last week.
“He’s a lot more comfortable back there and uses his legs a lot more this year,” said linebacker Anthony Barr. “It’s going to be different, as far as his size. We’ll have to feel it out, we’ll start fast and hit him early.”
Credit Dennis Erickson, Utah’s co-offensive coordinator who came out of retirement this season to help Utah’s offense. The Utes have found their perfect quarterback to run the zone read, and under the tutelage of Erickson, Wilson has become more confident and more refined.
In a thrilling homecoming battle against Oregon State, Wilson showed just how far he had come when he led the Utes on a 17-point rally that forced overtime.
The next day, Wilson flew home to attend his best friend Nick Pasquale’s funeral, where he met several of Pasquale’s Bruin teammates.
UCLA is familiar in more ways than one with Wilson.
“Now having that extra experience, he can also run the zone read really well, he can scramble if he needs to scramble and he’s quite an athlete,” said linebacker Jordan Zumwalt. “And I like to play against local kids. I went to a local high school as well so it’s like we’ve got something in common.”