The Utes announced Monday night Hays would serve as the starting quarterback the rest of the year since Jordan Wynn must have surgery to repair damage he suffered to his left shoulder in the loss to Washington.
Utah made the decision after exams showed there was no chance the shoulder could be stable enough to allow Wynn to finish the season, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Whittingham warned Hays last week this would be the scenario and said the quarterback has been preparing ever since.
"It's his show now, he has the controls," Whittingham said.
Hays went 18-for-30 for 199 yards in the Utes' 35-14 loss to Arizona State on Saturday. His performance was marred by three interceptions, and correcting those mistakes is his first order of business for Saturday's game at Pitt, he said.
"I've got to play smarter," he said. "I forced some things I shouldn't have."
Utah must be careful with Hays, since freshman Tyler Shreve is the backup and has no experience, but the Utes can't get too tight with the play-calling, Whittingham said.
"We've got to do what we have to do to win football games," Whittingham said. "We have to be somewhat judicious but we can't be conservative. We have to move the football and take advantage of Jon's skill set and what he does best."
Despite the three interceptions he threw Saturday, Hays said he feels comfortable in Utah's offense. Wynn has helped him make the transition, he said.
"He has been the starter the last two years, so if anybody knows what I'm going through, it's him," he said.
Wynn was at practice Tuesday but declined to speak with media members.
"He's disappointed, but that is part of the deal," Whittingham said. "The positive thing is, he knows exactly what to expect. He has been through it and he is a positive kid."
Hays joined the Utes in the summer from California's Butte College after Nebraska-Omaha dropped its football program.
Despite his late arrival, Hays quickly assimilated himself with the team. His teammates now say they will rally around him.
"It always takes the first game to get in there and get used to everything," fullback Luke Matthews said. "But he has the confidence to be the guy and we're all 100 percent behind him. We know he can get it done."
Utah at Pitt
P Saturday, 10 a.m.
TV • ESPNU (Comcast 400; DirecTV 208; Dish 141)