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Jaren Hall or Baylor Romney? Both BYU QBs are healthy, but coaches won’t name starter against USU until just before kickoff Saturday

The redshirt freshmen were both solid in their college football debuts, making the decision for Kalani Sitake and his staff a difficult one as they travel to frigid Logan this week

BYU coach Kalani Sitake yells instructions during game against Boise State on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake yells instructions during NCAA football against the Boise State Broncos in Boise on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — Redshirt freshman quarterback Jaren Hall cleared concussion protocol last Thursday as BYU was enjoying another bye week and making preparations for this Saturday’s rivalry football game at Utah State.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes freely produced that information on Monday, but they were as tight-lipped as expected when it came to announcing whether Hall or Baylor Romney will start at quarterback in the Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel in Logan (8 p.m. MT, ESPN2).

Romney, also a redshirt freshman and still a walk-on, led the 3-4 Cougars to a stunning 28-25 win over then-No. 14 Boise State on Oct. 19 while Hall was out recuperating from a blow he took in the 27-23 loss to South Florida the week prior.

“Don’t know yet,” Sitake said at the weekly press briefing Monday of which of the redshirt freshmen will start against USU. “We will figure it out as soon as we get closer. … We will see.”

During his Coordinators’ Corner program earlier Monday, Grimes also said coaches haven’t decided yet.

“Both of those guys have done some good things at various times, so we said we will let that decision play itself out and use the practice time to be part of that decision,” he said. “Both bring positives to the table, and both are good team guys, so if you could start both, you would start both. But that’s not really feasible, at least within our offense.”

The Cougars went a bit outside their offense to surprise the Broncos with a pair of gadget plays that went for touchdowns, so anything is possible now. And before season starter Zach Wilson sustained a fractured thumb in the final minutes of the Toledo game, Hall had been used on the field at the same time as Wilson.

Speaking of Wilson, Sitake said the sophomore won’t play Saturday, but “is progressing really well” and is “ahead of schedule when it comes to his injury.”

Wilson is still heavily involved in practices and the film room, Hall and Romney both said before the Boise State game, and offensive lineman James Empey confirmed Monday. Empey said whichever backup QB starts will have the backing of the entire team.

“I think they are just both excited to get an opportunity to play,” Empey said. “Both are working hard, working together, helping each other out. Those guys are two great teammates and two great men. They are going to do their best to prepare, and whoever the coaches decide is ready to go on Saturday, that is the person everybody will support.”

The age-old debate in these situations is simple: Can a starter lose his job due to injury?

Sitake isn’t tipping his hand on the matter.

“It all depends on when (the starter) comes back,” he said. “When an injured player returns, are they 100%? And the only way to tell is (through) competition. I don’t think you can forget about what they have done in the past, and how good they were when they won the spot. But you also can’t discount the fact that other players have gotten better, too.”

Sitake said the competition will likely continue through Friday’s walk-through (nonphysical) practice, so don’t expect an answer until just before kickoff in Logan, where temperatures are expected to be in the teens.

“If someone beats someone out, we will make the change,” he said. “And that’s with every position.”

Grimes said he’s thankful that this is one of the deepest groups of quarterbacks he’s been around in more than 20 years of coaching. Redshirt sophomore Joe Critchlow is also capable of leading the team to victories, having produced two in 2017.

“I have been on teams where we didn’t have any as good as some that we have (at BYU), and then I have been on others where if your starter gets knocked out, you are in trouble,” Grimes said. “Most teams I have been on have been that way, and certainly most have been if you are down to No. 3, you are in real trouble. So I was really proud of Baylor and really proud of our group in general, and proud of the team.”

The Cougars were also down to their third- and fourth-string running backs, Lopini Katoa and Sione Finau, against BSU. Grimes said that fifth-year graduate transfer Emmanuel Esukpa could have played but is still nursing a toe/foot injury and should be able to go this week with the additional rest provided by the bye week.

“I think any time you have been able to go to your third-string guys and you are still doing well and having a good performance like we did against an undefeated, ranked team, that’s a good sign,” Sitake concluded.

Extra points

It was announced Monday that BYU’s game against Liberty on Nov. 9 at LaVell Edwards Stadium will begin at 5:30 p.m. and be televised by ESPNU. BYU’s men’s basketball game that day against San Diego State will tip off at 2 p,m. … Sitake said that graduate transfer running back Ty’Son Williams, who sustained a knee injury in the fourth game of the season, against Washington, will apply for a medical hardship waiver with the NCAA in at attempt to get his fourth season of eligibility restored. … Grimes said that of the fourth offensive linemen who missed the Boise State game, right tackle Keanu Saleapaga (lower leg) has the best chance to return this week. Right tackle Thomas Shoaf (undisclosed) is out for the season, guard Kieffer Longson (foot) is out for another month at least and right guard Tristen Hoge (upper body) is week-to-week.

Cougars on the air

BYU (3-4) at Utah State (4-3)

At Maverik Stadium, Logan

Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM