If Jaren Hall can’t overcome concussion in loss to USF, BYU will have its 11th starting QB this decade against Boise State on Saturday
Quarterback injuries have plagued BYU’s offense since 2010 when Riley Nelson and Jake Heaps took over for ironman Max Hall, a mainstay at QB from 2007-2009.
PROVO — After getting sacked four times on BYU’s first three possessions and producing one field-goal drive and a pair of three-and-outs, Jaren Hall found his groove against South Florida on Saturday and played remarkably well considering it was his first college start.
But the redshirt freshman was drilled hard by a USF pass rusher as he released a third-down pass during BYU’s first possession of the fourth quarter and had to leave the game with concussion-like symptoms. Another redshirt freshman, Baylor Romney, took over but couldn’t get the Cougars into the end zone in two drives and BYU lost 27-23 at Raymond James Stadium.
For BYU, having a quarterback leave a game with an injury is nothing new. Not only did it happen two weeks ago when season starter Zach Wilson left the Toledo game with a thumb fracture, it has been a recurring theme most of the last decade.
“That’s what I get paid to do — figure it out. And so everything is up in the air right now. We are too good of a team for us to be having this many issues.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake
If Hall can’t play this Saturday against Boise State (8:15 p.m., ESPN2) at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and chances are good that he won’t if past history of players dealing with concussions is any indication, Romney will likely become the 11th quarterback to start a game for the Cougars since the 2010 season.
There might not be another program in all of college football more plagued by injuries at the most important position on the field than BYU the past decade. Since BYU went independent in 2011, only in 2013 has one quarterback (Taysom Hill) started every game in a single season.
Head coach Kalani Sitake wasn’t using Hall’s injury as an excuse after the third-straight loss dropped BYU’s record to 2-4 this season and his career record to 22-23, but the lack of stability at the quarterback position has defined his tenure, along with what he called “really, really frustrating” losses to teams such as East Carolina, UMass, Northern Illinois, Toledo and South Florida that BYU fans expect the Cougars to beat.
Against the Bulls, the inability to complete drives with touchdowns was the culprit, at least on the offensive side, whether Hall was in the game, or Romney. Amazingly, BYU has had 14 drives featuring 10 or more plays this season that ended without a touchdown.
In the losses to Toledo and USF in which BYU was a slight favorite, the Cougars possessed the football inside the opponent’s 35-yard-line 16 times and produced just five touchdowns and three field goals. They missed three field goals on those possessions, and turned the ball over on downs four times.
They had drives of 14, 11 and 12 plays against USF in the first half that all ended in field goals — lost points that would haunt them in the second half when the Bulls finally discovered that running the ball against the porous Cougar rush defense was the way to go.
What’s the problem?
“That’s what I get paid to do — figure it out,” Sitake said. “And so everything is up in the air right now. We are too good of a team for us to be having this many issues.”
But the injury issue at the quarterback position has been unavoidable, for whatever reason. And all three quarterbacks this year, including Wilson, have struggled in the red zone. The Cougars are 126th in the country in red-zone touchdown percentage with just nine TDs on 23 red-zone possessions.
BYU’s 10 Starting Quarterbacks Since 2010
(Year of First Start)
2010 — Riley Nelson, Jake Heaps
2012 — Taysom Hill, James Lark
2014 — Christian Stewart
2015 — Tanner Mangum
2016 — Beau Hoge
2017 — Joe Critchlow
2018 — Zach Wilson
2019 — Jaren Hall
“I am not sure what the problem is,” said center James Empey. “It is something we definitely have to get better at moving forward. It is something that we got to improve on. We gotta put points on the board — we gotta score when we are down there because I mean, we were moving the ball pretty well. We just got to take advantage of opportunities that we have and get points on the board.”
A lot of it falls on the quarterback to make a play. That’s a hard ask when the guy takes over late, as Romney did on Saturday and Hall did two weeks ago. Still, the brother of receiver Gunner Romney completed 6 of 10 passes for 73 yards and got the Cougars into scoring territory twice in the final seven minutes.
“Yeah, I thought he showed great poise. He has a lot of confidence in his ability and we have seen him do a lot of things in the past year,” Sitake said. “He has been able to work with (quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick) and be on the same page. He came in and it looked like he didn’t miss much of a beat.”
The Cougars have another quarterback who has made a few college starts, redshirt sophomore Joe Critchlow, but coaches apparently went with Romney because of his superior mobility. Critchlow stepped into the starting role in 2017 when Tanner Mangum went down with (what else?) an Achilles injury and delivered wins over UNLV and Hawaii.
Empey said Romney got a lot of reps in practice last week and the team has confidence in him.
“He came in and did exactly what he needed to do, exactly what we needed,” Empey said. “We were down there and we had a couple of plays to try to get in the end zone before time expired and Baylor drove us down there. He made good decisions and I am proud of the way he stepped in. When you have to step in in a tough time like that you need a guy like Baylor who can say, ‘hey, it is my turn and I am going to get it done.’ He put us in a good situation at the end of the game.”
But the Cougars came up short — again.
Cougars on the air
Boise State (6-0) at BYU (2-4)
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM