Provo • Joe Critchlow learned early last week that he would be BYU’s starting quarterback against UNLV on Friday night, and the 6-foot-4 freshman delivered a 31-21 win with assists from a dominating offensive line, re-energized running back Squally Canada and a defense that made just enough plays in the fourth quarter.

Coach Kalani Sitake said Critchlow “didn’t give the game away” and will likely get the nod this week as the 3-8 Cougars play host to resurgent UMass in their final home game of the 2017 season on Saturday.

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. MST and the game will be televised by BYUtv.

“I can’t believe [how much] this guy has grown the last few months,” Sitake said of Critchlow, who returned from a church mission in June. “He was knocking on doors a few months ago.”

Critchlow, from Franklin, Tenn., got the start because coaches determined shortly after BYU lost 20-13 at Fresno State on Nov. 4 that the QB who finished that game, Beau Hoge, couldn’t go — although he was apparently willing.

“His health is what matters, too,” Sitake said of Hoge. “I think he was willing to get out there and play hurt, but I am not sure that would have helped our team, and wouldn’t have helped him. We just decided against it. We will see how everything goes [this week], but Joe did a great job.”

Canada said the skill position players got together after a rough first quarter and vowed to help the young QB out by making some big plays. Canada and fellow running back Austin Kafentzis, receivers Aleva Hifo and Micah Simon, and tight end Matt Bushman did just that. Hifo made a phenomenal touchdown catch to give the Cougars momentum heading into halftime.

“We said, ‘let’s make him right, and let’s make the game easier for him,’” Canada said. “Joe got in his groove, and started completing passes. He looked good.”

Safety Micah Hannemann said the defensive players knew they had to play better as well. Zayne Anderson’s end zone interception gave them the confidence boost they needed.

“We were excited to see Joe play,” Hannemann said. “He has been working in there every single practice just as much at the other QBs. I am happy for him and excited for his future.”

Saturday’s game

UMass at BYU, 1 p.m. MST


The Cougars pummeled UMass 51-9 last year, breaking from a 14-9 halftime lead with 37 unanswered points in the second half, but the Minutemen are a much better team this season and BYU, obviously, is not.

Still, a month ago, this looked like a fairly easy win, even with how badly the Cougars were playing. But UMass is now 3-7 after an 0-6 start and recently almost knocked off No. 16 Mississippi State in Starkville before falling 34-23. Mississippi State routed BYU 35-10.

Saturday, junior quarterback Andrew Ford returned from a neck injury suffered against Appalachian State on Oct. 28 and was 21 of 39 for 355 yards and four touchdowns as UMass topped Maine 44-31 at Boston’s Fenway Park in 30-degree temperatures.