Cougars could be without more than just starting QB Kedon Slovis at West Virginia
Junior college transfer Jake Retzlaff won’t have several weapons at his disposal in first start, including receiver Darius Lassiter
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Ask teammates about BYU backup quarterback Jake Retzlaff and eventually they get around to his offbeat sense of humor, his positive demeanor, and team-first attitude.
But the first thing they mention is his somewhat quirky sidearm throwing style, the result, he says, of growing up with baseball as his first love.
“We are ultimately only worried about what is going on between these walls here at the (student-athlete building). But we hear some of that outside noise. And if you think it doesn’t give us a chip on our shoulder, then you are crazy, man.” — BYU running back Aidan Robbins
“I watched a lot of Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre growing up, and I kinda picked up their styles and developed into who I am now that way,” Retzlaff told the Deseret News in mid-September. “I played a lot of baseball, too. I read where Patrick Mahomes credits his style a lot to baseball, and I would say the same thing.”
Retzlaff played shortstop throughout high school in Southern California, and his parents were both coaches.
“You just use a lot of different arm angles playing shortstop,” he said. “So I just brought that over to football and realized it benefited my game.”
That game will be on full display Saturday night when 5-3 BYU meets 5-3 West Virginia at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown (5 p.m. MDT, Fox) because, as the Deseret News reported Thursday night, BYU starting quarterback Kedon Slovis is ailing and Retzlaff will make his first start of the year for the Cougars.
Slovis’ most serious injury involves his elbow, according to a source. Also, he most likely won’t be the only offensive starter out this week.
Receiver Darius Lassiter is not expected to play, either, while fellow pass-catchers Chase Roberts and Keanu Hill and starting left guard Paul Maile are questionable. Several of the Cougars’ defensive linemen are also dinged up, and doubtful, which isn’t a good omen considering that West Virginia’s bread and butter is running the football and taking time off the clock.
Add it all up and it is a big challenge for Retzlaff and the Cougars, who have worked hard to establish better depth for a couple years now, long before they received the Big 12 invitation in September 2021.
“I think we have the depth. But I don’t know if there is a team out there eight or nine weeks into the season that doesn’t have issues with depth,” BYU receivers coach and passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake said Tuesday. “That’s our job as coaches, is to get the next guys ready. I know I speak for the other coaches, too. We feel good about our depth and we love our chances to go in and give West Virginia the best we have.”
While Retzlaff doesn’t have the experience that Slovis has at the Division I level, he does bring some elements that were missing in the BYU offense, such as more mobility outside the pocket.
“Jake was extraordinarily athletic as a young kid, all the way up,” his father, Steve, said in an interview last April. “He played every sport you could think of. We signed him up for soccer, basketball, baseball, football. He even ran a little track. He ran a fast five-minute mile in junior high, something like 5:08 as a seventh-grader.”
At Riverside City College in California last year, Retzlaff ran for more than 500 yards, while also throwing for 4,596 yards and 44 touchdowns, with 14 interceptions. He missed the first three weeks of spring ball after a tonsillectomy and some resulting complications, but said midway through fall camp that he had completely recovered and was ready to compete with Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan for the backup job.
He won that, and has received second-team reps all season, and first-team reps all week.
When he was asked Monday if Slovis, having played against West Virginia when he was at Pitt, could be a positive for BYU, head coach Kalani Sitake perhaps threw out some signals that a change was in the works because his answer focused on the opportunity at hand.
“There are things we need to do within ourselves and our system that we can control before we worry about anything else,” Sitake said. “I want our guys to go and embrace the environment. Their fans love their team so it is going to be a difficult place to play. … There is nothing wrong with going on the field and embracing the opportunity to be in a place that is going to be difficult to win at (and where) a lot of teams don’t do well.”
Cougars on the air
BYU (2-3, 5-3)
at West Virginia (3-2, 5-3)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT
Milan Puskar Stadium
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
Robbins said Monday the Cougars are relishing the underdog role, which got more pronounced this week with the quarterback change.
“We are ultimately only worried about what is going on between these walls here at the (student-athlete building),” Robbins said. “But we hear some of that outside noise. And if you think it doesn’t give us a chip on our shoulder, then you are crazy, man.
“So it definitely has an affect on how we play, and our preparation,” Robbins continued. “We always knew we were counted out from the jump, man. It is no different than to be an underdog, man. It just makes us want to work that much harder.”
Shorthanded as they may be.