Ja’Quinden Jackson just wanted to play football. He battled for the No. 2 quarterback job in fall camp but when the season began, he was standing on the sidelines as the No. 3, knowing it would take quite a bit to get on the field. When tailback Chris Curry was lost for the season to an injury and the staff went to Jackson about the prospect of playing running back, Jackson was all-in.

In Week 4, with starter Tavion Thomas benched for the first half, Utah had Micah Bernard and Jaylon Glover left over. For a team that likes to play a deep rotation at running back, you wondered who the third guy would be. Jackson provided an answer pretty quickly, running for 31 yards and a score on nine carries.

“I found my joy again,” he told reporters this week, per UteZone’s Sammy Mora.

Jackson played some running back during his time at Duncanville High School in Texas. But it’s been a few years since he filled the role full-time. Against Arizona State, he had less than a full week of prep to make the switch.

“The kid is already naturally gifted. He just has to learn the nuances of the position,” said running backs coach Quinton Ganther.  “He’d only had two days of practice. I congratulate him for taking it seriously with two days of work. That’s hard to do — get thrown in the fire and have two days of work. I appreciate him for the work he’s put in.”

This wasn’t a one-week gimmick; coach Kyle Whittingham says Jackson is a running back for the rest of the year. They’ll give it one more look in the offseason to determine if it’s a full-time move. Ganther said Jackson’s perspective can provide an advantage. He already knows the offense in and out, and he knows what’s expected of everyone on any given play.

“The challenge is getting out of that quarterback mindset and getting into a running back mindset,” Ganther said. “He’s starting to get it and starting to understand it. One of the biggest things about the position is the protection. He understood the protection from the offensive line point of view and the quarterback point of view, but he didn’t understand where the running backs go. That is going to be the biggest challenge, getting the footwork and everything down pat. He’s used to giving (handoffs), not taking them. We have to get all that together as well.”

With Thomas presumably back in the picture as the lead runner, Jackson figures to be the No. 4 runner. We’ll see what that role looks like come Saturday when the Utes welcome Oregon State (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) for an 11 a.m. PT kickoff on the Pac-12 Network.