Provo • The decision to throw long on fourth-and-1 from midfield early in the fourth quarter of the Cougars’ 24-7 loss to Boise State was a bizarre one on Friday night.
Then BYU coaches really outdid themselves, altering freshman Joe Critchlow’s redshirt plans by inserting the quarterback into the game to relieve an ineffective Tanner Mangum with 2:17 remaining and the outcome not even remotely in doubt.
The latter decision was a major surprise because head coach Kalani Sitake had said Monday that he would “hate to take [Critchlow and fellow freshman returned missionary Kody Wilstead] out of their redshirt year” because both were still trying to gain weight and get back in playing shape after two years away from the game.
BYU at Mississippi State, 10 a.m. MDT
TV: SEC Network
When Mangum, his left ankle in a brace or heavily taped under his sock, started the game and was healthy enough to finish it, he later said, fears that Critchlow would have to play out of necessity had dissipated. But there he was, completing 2 of 4 passes for 8 yards in his college debut.
“I think the point [was] we were just trying to find some momentum and trying to get some positive yards,” Sitake said. “Obviously, you can see, Tanner is limping around a little bit. Just wanted to see what Joe could do. So, at that point, just wanted to get a spark going. So that’s pretty much all it is.”
Second-stringer Beau Hoge didn’t dress out for the game; Third-stringer Koy Detmer Jr. warmed up but was apparently not an option. Former quarterback Austin Kafentzis took some snaps out of the wildcat formation earlier in the game, rushing twice for 9 yards, and was available.
Mangum, who was 18 for 33 for 164 yards, with two interceptions, said offensive coordinator Ty Detmer told him before the last series that they were going to give Critchlow a chance.
“Just trying to protect me, keep the ankle healthy,” said Mangum, who entered the postgame interview room with the protective boot back on his left foot. “It was obviously frustrating, knowing that you didn’t come out with a victory. But [Critchlow] did a good job, did what he could.”
Later, Mangum accepted “full responsibility for our struggles” and said he puts the pressure on himself to get the offense on track. But will he get the chance?
Certainly, coaches wouldn’t have pulled Critchlow’s redshirt in garbage time of the sixth game of the season if they didn’t plan on using him extensively the remainder of the season. And there are whispers that the concussion Hoge suffered against USU wasn’t his first and could keep him out for a long stretch, perhaps permanently. Concussions drove his father, Merril, out of the NFL.
Sitake was disappointed in the play of the entire team, but saved his harshest criticism for Mangum, who completed 8 of his first 9 passes and then only 10 of his next 24 with the two interceptions. The first interception, returned 50 yards by Kekoa Nawahine, turned the momentum in Boise State’s favor for good.
“I don’t know if he was being predictable with his eyes, or what the issues were,” Sitake said. “I thought we had some open guys downfield and he threw it to the wrong guy. They picked it. The second one I believe was kind of the same thing, just bad reads. So, I am not really going to sugarcoat it. Just not good enough.”
The coach said BYU’s offense still needs to develop an identity, but didn’t mention Mangum as the catalyst to make that happen.
“I know it sounds crazy midseason, but we need to have something we can hang our hat on, and I think his name is [running back] Ula Tolutau,” Sitake said. “There is definitely a lot of room for improvement in all three phases, but the focus right now is primarily on the offense.”
And it might start with another major decision regarding the quarterback.