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The week's buildup to Jon Hays' first start as Utah's quarterback was frightening, agonizing and nerve-wracking.

It probably was not easy for Hays himself.

"As a parent, it's sheer anguish," Randy Hays was saying Saturday afternoon, standing in the Rice-Eccles Stadium end zone, waiting for his son to emerge from the locker room. "The whole week's been very rough. It's been tough for me; I imagine it's been very tough for him."

Anybody could have seen this coming, really. In stretches of the Utes' 35-14 loss to Arizona State, Hays looked like a genuine Pac-12 quarterback, executing a well-designed scheme and playing with poise. At other moments, he performed exactly like someone who's supposed to be competing in the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association, throwing three interceptions.

Hays finished 18-of-30 for 199 yards and one touchdown — decent numbers, other than the interceptions. They were killers, especially the one in the end zone after a nice drive just before halftime and another late in the third quarter on Utah's first play after ASU had gone ahead 21-14.

"The offense goes as I go," Hays said. "When I turn the ball over three times, it's not going to help."

Nobody's sure how long the Utes (2-3) will have to play without starting quarterback Jordan Wynn. This team, winless in three conference games, is playing only for bowl eligibility. Odds are that Hays will have to make that happen.

Is that possible?

"I hope so," said coach Kyle Whittingham. "Like I said, he's a competitive kid. He's got a strong arm. He has some attributes that are very positive."

In this case, Hays played well enough to keep the Utes in the game for nearly three quarters and just badly enough to get them beat convincingly. That's life in the Pac-12.

This could have become a great story, how Hays' parents drove all night from northern California after another son's high school game, arrived at the stadium about three hours before kickoff and watched Jon beat the No. 22 Sun Devils. These things rarely write themselves, though.

Hays would have had to play almost perfectly to win this game, and that was simply asking too much.

It was easy to picture him shredding the University of Sioux Falls defense Saturday, only to have a strange sequence of events give him this advanced opportunity. Hays signed with Division II Nebraska-Omaha, which dropped football, just as the Utes were discovering they needed a better backup to Wynn.

"He lives for this," Randy Hays said. "He's worked his whole football career to be in this situation, and I'm hoping he gets better. He's doing what he loves, I know that."

The father also said, accurately, "He won't be happy."

In the postgame news conference, moments before, Hays said, "I'm just disappointed in how I played."

Twitter: @tribkurt

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