PROVO — BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes was well-prepared.
As he approached a gaggle of reporters after Wednesday's practice, anticipating questions about the quarterback situation involving senior starter quarterback Tanner Mangum and freshman backup Zach Wilson, Grimes made a statement before fielding a question.
“We are not making an announcement about the quarterback. As with any position, there is a possibility that we could start a player that has not started,” he said. “So, yeah, there is a possibility that Zach could start but we’re not making a statement at this time.”
If Wilson were called upon to start, he would become just the seventh true freshman in school history to do so.
Wilson entered the Utah State game late last Friday night in the Cougars’ 45-20 loss to the Aggies and engineered a six-play, 77-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by his 26-yard run and capped by his 18-yard touchdown pass to freshman Gunner Romney. Wilson’s only other collegiate experience came late in the McNeese State game on Sept. 22.
BYU, which is riding a two-game losing streak, hosts Hawaii Saturday (8:15 p.m., MDT, ESPN2).
Earlier in the week, coach Kalani Sitake said every position was being evaluated, including quarterback.
How much does practice performance influence any decisions regarding playing time in comparison to game performance?
“A guy has to show on a daily basis that he is preparing the right way. Practice does matter. But there is something different about what a guy does in a game. Some guys can come out in practice and do great every day,” Grimes said. “But they go over there when the lights are on and they don’t perform as well. I don’t believe in the idea of a ‘gamer,’ but some guys handle pressure better than others. The other thing you have to recognize, though, is it’s easier to come in that situation than it is to be the starter and play well the whole time. I’m not downplaying what Zach did — he did a great job and I’m happy for him and I’m proud of him. But that’s different.”
How does passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick evaluate Wilson’s performance this season?
“He’s done a good job when he’s gotten a chance to be in there,” he said. “It was definitely a low-pressure situation for sure but he’s done a good job. He’s done a good job in practice every week, preparing. He’s always been ready to play. He’s a hard worker.”
What did Roderick think about the way Wilson played against USU?
“I thought he brought a little spark with his athleticism and he showed some good composure,” he said. “He went out there and did what he did in practice. In fairness to Tanner, that was a lot less pressure on Zach in that situation than some of the games Tanner’s played in this year. We’ve had a tough schedule. We’ve been in some tough games. A lot of respect for how Tanner’s battled this year.”
Roderick said that the evaluation process goes all season long.
“We’re always evaluating everyone. Every play of every game matters. We preach to our players, ‘Every play of every practice matters.’ It’s all being filmed,” he said. “What’s on that film is who you are as a football player. It doesn’t lie. That’s for every position on this whole team. We talk about it every day and that’s how it is.”
Grimes said that if a change is made at quarterback, it won’t mean a revamping of the offense or a change in scheme.
“One thing we’ve done from the onset is build a system that is diverse enough that we don’t necessarily have to add new plays but there would be some wrinkles and some things that would be slightly different if Zach were to go into the game, whether that be (the first play) or the beginning of the second quarter.”
Grimes said a decision to start, or play, a new quarterback isn't motivated by the idea of investing in the future of the program.
“In my mind, (long-term considerations) don’t matter one bit," Grimes said. "All we care about is putting the best team on the field that we can possibly field this Saturday.”