PROVO — With BYU junior quarterback Tanner Mangum done for the season after suffering an Achilles injury at Fresno State last Saturday night, the battle for the starting quarterback job is on.
Coach Kalani Sitake said Monday that there’s “an open competition” to be the starter between sophomore Beau Hoge and freshmen Joe Critchlow and Kody Wilstead in preparation for the game Friday (8:30 p.m., MST, ESPN2) at UNLV.
“We’ll see who deserves to be the starter, who deserves to take the first snaps this weekend,” Sitake said. “That’s going to be established throughout the week … We’ll play the best one.”
Mangum was sidelined for two games, against Wisconsin and Utah State, earlier this season due to an ankle injury that he sustained late in the loss to Utah.
Hoge started the Wisconsin and USU games and got hurt in the first half against the Aggies. Hoge came back for the first time last Saturday at Fresno State, where he completed 3 of 10 passes for 51 yards but may have injured his ankle in the 20-13 loss to the Bulldogs.
Asked about Hoge’s status, Sitake said, “I don’t know if he’s ever been back full strength. Every one of our players has issues and are banged up here and there. It’s something we’re evaluating. That factors into the competition part of it, too.”
Hoge adds “a little more mobility, zone-read type of stuff” to the offense, said wide receiver Micah Simon. “With our run game, it creates a different element that the defense has to worry about. I think he brings that to the table. We’ll see how we can implement that in the game plan.”
Critchlow made his collegiate debut late in the setback to Boise State. He also saw playing time at the end of the Mississippi State and San Jose State games. For the season, he’s completed 6 of 11 passes for 59 yards.
Wilstead hasn’t played a down this season. At the beginning of the season, it appeared that BYU would redshirt both Critchlow and Wilstead, who recently returned home from missions.
But the Cougars (2-8) are running out of options.
Two others on the roster with quarterback experience, Koy Detmer, Jr. and Austin Kafentzis, apparently aren’t in the mix.
“Austin is probably going to play some in the wildcat package that he’s done. He’s made that change over to running back,” Sitake said. “There are only so many reps. The three I mentioned, one of those three will be taking the first reps.”
BYU (2-8) at UNLV (4-5)
Friday, 8:30 p.m. MDT Sam Boyd Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
What factors will the coaching staff assess to determine the starter?
“Competition and then seeing who gets us in the best position to score points. It’s production for us,” Sitake said. “There are some guys that haven’t really had their shot. We’ll see if they deserve it and how well they do leading the offense. That can be established this week. We felt really comfortable with Joe and his progress that he’s made along the way. The same thing goes for Kody. He just hasn’t been able to get on the field. A lot of stuff factors into it — who’s ready to be the guy and who’s going to take it. They have to compete for it.”
Sitake added that his choice to start at quarterback doesn’t necessarily have a bearing on who starts for the rest of the season.
“All I really care about it winning this game. We’re not really thinking about anything other than that right now. I’m trying to get our third win,” Sitake said. “That’s the goal right now. I don’t think there’s ever a moment where you think that this is set in stone. Everyone’s got to battle for their positions. That’s established during practice. But again, it’s confirmed in the games.”
While evaluating the quarterbacks, Sitake said “everything factors into it. Experience vs. inexperience, the ability to run vs. the ability to throw, command of the offense, how they’re able to manage the offense. All that stuff matters.”
Simon said he’ll miss having Mangum on the field but he has confidence in the other QBs.
“It sucks to have a guy work so hard to come back from the first injury and have to go out again. I’m praying for him, I feel for him,” he said. “But it’s still the next man up mentality. Beau and Joe will carry us through and we’ll lean on them, they’ll lean on us and we’ll be fine.”
When asked to assess Mangum’s season overall, Sitake said, “Obviously you look at the numbers, it wasn’t good enough. We weren’t good enough as a team at a lot of different places. We’re sitting at a horrible record that I’m not proud of. I don’t think it’s indicative of the talent that we have on this team.”
While Fresno State was a good defensive team, UNLV ranks No. 118 (out of 129 teams) in total defense, No. 86 in passing defense, No. 120 in rushing defense and No. 103 in scoring defense.
Sitake is clearly frustrated by the offense’s lack of scoring all season long, including last Saturday.
“Offensively, we just didn’t have enough production. Not enough points on the board, not enough big plays compared to the week before,” Sitake said. “I said if I were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging. I didn’t feel like we took enough swings.”
The Cougars struggled in the red zone and squandered some scoring opportunities.
BYU had the ball at the FSU 26-yard line late in the game, trailing by a touchdown. On fourth-and-1, Hoge rolled out and his pass was knocked down.
“Mistakes and penalties can hurt it too. Let’s fix those,” Sitake said. “Those are things you can control right away with the coaching staff. Player-wise, we’ve just got to make plays. There comes a point where you just have to toughen up and get a yard. We’re BYU and it shouldn’t be a problem for us on fourth-and-one to get one yard.”