Quarterback question still publicly unanswered as BYU football prepares for Hawaii

October 11, 2018
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Brigham Young Cougar quarterback Tanner Mangum takes the field before the game against the Utah State Aggies on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

Tanner Mangum ... or Zach Wilson?

Whenever a college football offense struggles, the expected response from the fans is to have them start calling for the backup quarterback to take the reins.

Thus it’s not surprising that many of the BYU faithful have been clamoring for Wilson (a true freshman) to replace Mangum (a senior).

But whether or not the Cougar coaches have decided that is the best course of action or not won’t be revealed until Saturday night, when BYU hosts Hawai’i (8:15 p.m. MT, ESPN2).

“As with any position, there is a possibility that we could start a player that has not started,” Cougar offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said after practice on Monday. “Yes, there is a possibility that Zach (Wilson) could start, but we aren’t making a statement at this time.”

Mangum has taken the majority of the snaps and although he orchestrated upset road wins at Arizona and at Wisconsin, the Cougar offense with him at the helm has only put 20 points on the board in the last two weeks.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that in his one significant series at the end of last week’s 45-20 home loss to Utah State, Wilson drove BYU 77 yards in six plays to score a touchdown including a 26-yard run.

It’s hard to gauge exactly how much should be read into that, since the outcome had clearly been decided and the Aggies weren’t playing with the same intensity or personnel as they had earlier in the contest.

“It’s easier to come in in that situation than it is to come in as the starter and play the whole time,” Grimes said. “I’m not downplaying what Zach did. He did a great job and I’m happy for him and proud of him. But that’s different.”

BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said Wilson has done well with the limited opportunities he’s had thus far.

“He’s done a good job when he’s gotten in there,” Roderick said. “It was low-pressure situations for sure, but he’s done a good job. He brought a little spark with his athleticism and he showed some good composure. He’s always been ready to play. He’s a hard worker.”

Still, the majority of what Wilson has done in 2018 has been behind closed doors at BYU practices. He showed flashes of his potential during fall camp but just how good he can or will be is certainly an unknown at this point.

Grimes said that as the offensive coordinator, he is looking hard at both practice performance and how a player shows up on game day.

“A guy has to show on a daily basis that he is preparing the right way, so practice does matter,” Grimes said. “But there is something different about what a guy does in a game. Some guys can come out every day and be great in practice, but they go over there when the lights are on and they don’t perform as well. Some guys handle pressure better than others.”

Some people have suggested that since BYU is 3-3 at this point, they believe BYU should not worry about the rest of 2018 and start Wilson so he will be better prepared for the future.

Grimes, on the other hand, said he is solely focused on winning now and isn’t thinking about risking that to give a freshman experience.

“In my mind, they (future considerations) don’t matter one bit,” Grimes said. “All we care about is putting the best team on the field that we possibly can this Saturday.”

Grimes agreed that there would be the possibility of starting Mangum, but having Wilson come in earlier in the game than he has in the past. He believes the current Cougar offense wouldn’t change dramatically if BYU went with Wilson instead of Mangum.

“We’ve tried to build a system that is diverse enough that we wouldn’t have to add new plays,” Grimes said. “But there would be some wrinkles and things that would be different if Zach was to go in the game.”

The bottom line, according to the BYU coaching staff, is that the quarterback position is getting the same weekly consideration that occurs at every other spot and that the goal is to put the best team on the field.

“Every week we evaluate it at every position,” Roderick said. “It’s no different at quarterback. Some guys take steps forwards or steps backwards. The competition continues all year.”

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