PROVO — It wouldn’t be a usual Monday press briefing for Kalani Sitake this season without BYU’s football coach having to answer questions about the health and playing availability of at least one of the four quarterbacks on his roster who have won games as a starter.
The shuffling at the most important position on the field, brought on by a rash of injuries, has been one of the main storylines of the 2019 campaign, along with the Cougars’ wild inconsistency in registering a 4-4 record through two-thirds of Sitake’s fourth year. Since season starter Zach Wilson sustained a fractured thumb against Toledo in the fifth game, the ensuing news conferences have included starting QB questions.
And Monday was no different,
Sitake acknowledged that starting QB Jaren Hall took a helmet-to-helmet hit that went unpenalized as he was crossing the goal line on a 7-yard touchdown run late in the first half of the 42-14 win over Utah State and was not cleared by BYU’s medical staff to play in the second half.
Fellow redshirt freshman Baylor Romney replaced Hall mid-game for the second time in three games and completed 10 of 16 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns while hobbling a bit on a sore right foot. Monday’s release of the depth chart for Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. game at LaVell Edwards Stadium against fellow independent Liberty (6-3) showed four QBs for the first time — Wilson, Hall and Romney as the possible starters and sophomore Joe Critchlow as the fourth-stringer.
“We have a room full of quarterbacks that can play,” Sitake said. “I am just glad that those guys answer the call whenever their number is up and they are ready for it.”
So who’s going to get the call against the Flames and their hotshot QB, Stephen “Buckshot” Calvert?
Sitake isn’t saying.
“Not at this moment, no (update),” he said, when asked about Hall’s health. “So it is day-to-day. That’s what it is, yeah. We will find out day-to-day.”
What is known is that Wilson is getting closer to returning. The cast on his right hand was removed last week and he began throwing again at Wednesday’s practice. And he’s back on the depth chart for the first time since his injury on Sept. 28.
Quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick told the Deseret News last week that Wilson was “way ahead” of schedule after doctors said he’d be out 6-8 weeks when they performed surgery on Oct. 1. Sitake said Wilson’s status is “between questionable and doubtful.”
Hall’s status is less than doubtful, considering he’s had two likely concussions in three weeks and didn’t clear protocol for nearly two weeks after the first concussion. He had played brilliantly in the first half against the Aggies, throwing for 214 yards and rushing for 54 and two TDs.
“We just want him to be healthy and his life is all that matters to me right now,” said Sitake. “We have a really good medical staff and I trust them. We have the mindset that we will take care of Jaren first.”
Assistant head coach Ed Lamb said on his Coordinators’ Corner program that concussions are difficult to predict and Hall could be cleared in a few days, or it “could be much longer than that.”
Romney’s brother, BYU sophomore receiver Gunner, was made available Monday and spoke as if Baylor would get the starting nod against Liberty, just as he did before the 28-25 upset of No. 14 Boise State on Oct. 19.
“Baylor (had) played great the last week, so everybody was ready for it,” Gunner Romney said. “Everyone knew he could step up and do the job.”
Sitake said Wilson, who directed the Cougars to a pair of wins early when they were big underdogs — 29-26 over Tennessee and 30-27 over USC — has been involved in every practice, every game, since his surgery.
“All the quarterbacks are going to relish the roles that they have been given and try to maximize as much as they can with it,” Sitake said. “Joe Critchlow has done an amazing job, too, in being ready. Those guys have a great approach to it. But the whole team has taken that mentality to be ready when your number is called.”
That’s a good thing, because injuries continue to plague the Cougars as they embark on the latter third of their schedule with the goal to not look past anyone. The lineup of Liberty, Idaho State, UMass and San Diego State is not nearly as imposing, but BYU has yet to win a game this year in which it was favored.
Sitake said Liberty, especially, has the talent, coaching and athleticism to make life rough for the Cougars on Saturday if they aren’t ready.
“We know what we are playing for, right?” he said. “Knowing you are in the last third of the season, and trying to earn the right to play one more game (a bowl game), the sense of urgency has got to be there. We are still playing with a chip on our shoulder and creating an opportunity for our guys to play at their best. That’s the key that we are trying to get here. As the head coach, I got to make sure I can give them that environment where they can thrive and get better.”
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Cougars on the air
Liberty (6-3) at BYU (4-4)
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM