SALT LAKE CITY — Coming off two consecutive lopsided losses, including a surprising embarrassment to Utah State at home, the BYU football team desperately needs a jolt to jumpstart its season.
More than likely, coach Kalani Sitake will make at least some changes to the playing rotation. Going with a new quarterback is a strong possibility, with freshman Zach Wilson getting his first start.
During media availability this week, Sitake was coy about a potential quarterback change. But Wilson’s time apparently has arrived.
“It’s just like every personnel group,” Sitake said of the quarterbacks. “That one probably gets a lot of attention, but I am open to anything. So that’s what it comes down to. Everyone will compete, and we will see who plays on Saturday — at every position.”
Gone are a sustained run in the national rankings – BYU stayed in the top 25 for two weeks – and a chance to far exceed preseason expectations. Reaching the midway point at 3-3, the first objective is to win another three games to meet the minimum required for bowl eligibility.
By most measurements, under the circumstances, the Cougars can claim progress by making the postseason after going 4-9 last season. Anything less than 6-6 would be a major disappointment and wipe out all the good feelings created by winning at Arizona and Wisconsin last month.
Handicapping the remaining schedule, BYU has probable tough games left on the road in November against Boise State and Utah. The other four opponents – Hawaii, Northern Illinois, New Mexico State and Massachusetts – all present opportunities for BYU to win. The last two weeks have been especially difficult on both sides of the ball.
After edging out Wilson during training camp in a hotly contested competition in August, Tanner Mangum started the first six games this season. While not spectacular, the senior directed the two big road wins but did not perform nearly as well in the losses to Cal, Washington and Utah State.
"Everyone will compete, and we will see who plays on Saturday — at every position.” - Coach Kalani Sitake
One week before the season opener in Tucson, Sitake allowed offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and passing coordinator Aaron Roderick to announce the decision to go with Mangum. No public pronouncement is expected this week, forcing Hawaii to prepare for both quarterbacks.
“Everything is my call. It will be all of our calls, but it will come down to me, Sitake said.
The timing this week is right to go with Wilson, who starred in a pass-happy offense in high school at Corner Canyon in Draper. The partisan crowd at LaVell Edwards Stadium will welcome a fresh face at quarterback, even if Wilson is not proven. And a bye next week also would allow extra time for Wilson’s development.
Wilson played in the fourth quarter against the Aggies during what was essentially garbage time. He scrambled for 25 yards on his first run, which ended up begin BYU’s biggest gain of the game. He then led a six-play, 77-yard drive capped by his first career touchdown pass with 18-yard toss to fellow freshman Gunner Romney, with 1:14 left in the final period.
In two games, Wilson has completed 4-of-6 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for a total of 25 yards on four carries. His ability to run could add a much-needed spark to BYU’s struggling offense.