SALT LAKE CITY — Moments after BYU suffered a disheartening loss to Cal, coach Kalani Sitake spread the blame around to all aspects of his football team.
The problem is, win or lose, the quarterback draws most of the attention. In this case, when the offense scores only one touchdown, a strong contingent already is calling for a quarterback change.
But not now. Tanner Mangum deserves more time.
“It’s got to get better,” Sitake said of reviewing Mangum, completed 21-of-42 passes for 196 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
In his next breath, Sitake added the receivers and linemen to the mix. “Dropping the ball doesn’t help either and pass protection wasn’t there,” he said.
“There’s enough blame to go all around.”
No argument here. One week after producing four touchdowns in the win over Arizona, the BYU offense was lame against the Bears.
The fact is, BYU blew a winnable game that could have led to a 2-0 start. Now the Cougars will be heavy underdogs in the next two road games against nationally ranked Wisconsin and Washington, respectively. A home game against McNeese State is sandwiched in between the two heavyweights.
The argument for replacing Mangum has some merit, notably the senior is coming off an ineffective and injured-riddled junior season. The thought is he won’t get much better as the season progresses.
Waiting in the wings is freshman Zach Wilson, who soared up the depth chart with an impressive training camp in August. Sometimes the unknown offers more intrigue than the known.
In his weekly press conference two days after the loss, Sitake played it coy on any possible quarterback change.
“We look at different positions. I don't look at personnel groups right away. I'm looking at why we're not clicking as a unit as an offense and a defense. We look at different positions,” he said. “We’re always evaluating how we can get the best athletes in the best position for us to win. That’s all I care about. That’s what we’ll do this week and we’ll see what happens on Saturday.”
Clearly, Sitake and his offensive coaches are at least thinking of inserting Wilson. He has been getting about 40 percent of the snaps in practice, up from the usual number the backup receives.
But giving a freshman his first start against Wisconsin, whose defense has allowed two touchdowns through two games, is not BYU’s best option. Playing on the road before 80,000 delirious fans probably isn’t the best way to baptize a quarterback.
The eye test would indicate BYU’s quarterback won’t determine the outcome of this game either way. Wisconsin, which won at LaVell Edwards Stadium last season 40-6, is a 21-point favorite.
There’s no point in making Wilson a sacrificial lamb in his first game. And besides, no matter what happened last year, Mangum won the competition in training camp and has earned an opportunity to potentially rebound from a subpar game.
This is not to suggest Mangum, whose experience basically was the difference in the competition, is entitled to playing time. Nobody in this program, which is 5-10 since the start of last season, is guaranteed anything.
The heir apparent to Mangum, Wilson will play this season. Under newly instituted rules, players are allowed to see action in up to four games without burning a year of eligibility.
The guess here is Wilson will play in enough games to go into next season as a sophomore. Sitake, who can’t afford to look too far into the future, has no intention to redshirt the freshman.
Wilson, who has yet to play this season, could play at some point against Wisconsin. Depending on the effectiveness of both quarterbacks, the following week at home against McNeese State would be a much better landing spot for Wilson to make his first start.