Did BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff do enough in four games to keep the starting job in 2024?
After the 40-34 double-overtime loss to Oklahoma State ended BYU’s season, coach Kalani Sitake said changes are coming
STILLWATER, Okla. — After Saturday’s heartbreaking 40-34 double-overtime loss to No. 20 Oklahoma State ended BYU’s first season in the Big 12, head coach Kalani Sitake freely acknowledged that the Cougars’ roster will undergo a lot of change before they face Southern Illinois on Aug. 31 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
That’s just the nature of college football these days. Dealing with attrition and scouring the transfer portal is part of a coaching staff’s daily tasks in the offseason.
“It would be hard for us to make that move and put that much pressure (on him). I don’t think we felt that was the right move at that time. But we considered it. We considered all that. I know Kedon was ready to go and wanted to be in there.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake
For BYU, does that mean searching for a veteran quarterback, like it did last winter when Jaren Hall moved on to the NFL and Kedon Slovis came in from Pitt?
Or did junior college transfer Jake Retzlaff, who has two years of eligibility remaining, show enough promise in the four games he started — all losses — to make coaches believe that hitting the portal isn’t a priority in that particular position?
Sitake was noncommittal when posed with that question after the loss to the Cowboys (9-3), who are off to the Big 12 championship game on Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to face former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian’s Texas Longhorns.
“I will have to watch the film,” Sitake said, which wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence for Retzlaff, who played reasonably well in the first half after a couple early mistakes. In the second half, Retzlaff struggled mightily until BYU’s final possession, when he took over with 53 seconds remaining and drove the team into field goal range for Will Ferrin’s game-tying 48-yard boot.
“We have a good group of quarterbacks that can play,” Sitake said. “Some of them are really young.”
Sitake said the staff has “a lot of faith” in guys such as Cade Fennegan and Nick Billoups, who have been in the program for several years. Then he mentioned the true freshman QB who insiders say has been the most impressive in practices this fall among the players backing up Slovis and Retzlaff.
“Ryder Burton is an up-and-coming young player,” Sitake said of the Springville High product who graduated high school at this time last year so he could participate in spring ball. “He has done some really good things when he has been running scout team. We will evaluate it. We will look at all of those things.”
Last Tuesday, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick was asked if four games is enough of a sample size to determine whether Retzlaff has what it takes to be the guy next year, and he acknowledged that it would be a “pretty good” indicator.
“That is a hard question to answer, but I think we are starting to find out that he’s a pretty good player,” Roderick said. “If we can cut back on the turnovers, he can move the team.”
BYU enters the offseason having lost five-straight games, its longest losing streak to end a season since 1955.
After sustaining an elbow injury in the 35-6 loss to Texas on Oct. 21, which is when the skid began, Slovis didn’t see the field again although he practiced the past three weeks and threw reasonably well in pregame warmups before the Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State games.
Why didn’t coaches go back to the veteran, especially in the second half vs. OSU when BYU’s offense sputtered until the very end?
“It would be hard for us to make that move and put that much pressure (on him),” Sitake said. “I don’t think we felt that was the right move at that time. But we considered it. We considered all that. I know Kedon was ready to go and wanted to be in there.”
Obviously, quarterback isn’t the only position of need, or the most glaring one, as BYU stays home for the holidays for only the second time in 19 years, and first time since Sitake’s second year, 2017. The offense needs another big-time running back, especially if an undecided Aidan Robbins moves on.
A game-breaking receiver or two is needed, but the biggest rebuilding project will be on the offensive line as guard Paul Maile, tackle Kingsley Suamataia and perhaps a couple others such as Connor Pay (undecided) and Brayden Keim (undecided) move on. Caleb Etienne has said he plans to return.
What the defense needs is a topic for another day, but it also starts in the trenches, where BYU was manhandled in the big losses to TCU, West Virginia and Iowa State.
“The key in the transfer portal and in recruiting is to make sure that they are a good fit for our culture and our program. If they do that then I think they will be fine,” Sitake said. “If they want to be at BYU, then we will play a lot better with them being here. I mean, look at Oklahoma State. They have had some attrition happen last year.
“I think there was a little bit of panic when people left (OSU) but what coach (Mike) Gundy did was rally around the guys who wanted to be here, and now they are in the championship game. So there is a lot of that happening in college football. We will look at the places to improve on and find a way to get it done.”
After mentioning that “guys need to get bigger, stronger” in the offseason and “get more meat on their bones to tackle these big backs,” Sitake said that some of the much-needed changes could involve the coaching staff.
“Yeah that is part of it,” he said. “I mean, everything (will be considered). I have to evaluate all of it. Everyone has to ask difficult questions (of themselves). Because this is the end of the season for us. And it is not what we wanted. There is room for improvement in a lot of different places.
“I will get to that and we will make some things happen in our program, that we have to,” he continued. “Whether it is that or others, there are a lot of things we can do differently, including scheme. Then we can take advantage of our players and put them in a better position to have success and actually win games and hang on to leads and things like that.”