Three months later and a few blocks from LaVell Edwards Stadium, where he became The Quarterback Who Got Ty Detmer Fired, BYU’s Joe Critchlow delivered the football accurately and crisply Monday morning.
The Cougars opened spring football practice indoors, as almost an entirely new offensive coaching staff watched six quarterbacks throw passes — not counting Tanner Mangum, who was dressed but did not fully participate in his recovery from an Achilles injury. Whoever emerges as the starting QB will have a job description to put “a lot of points on the board,” coach Kalani Sitake said.
That sure didn’t happen in Critchlow’s only start in Provo. BYU’s offense produced three points in the first 59 minutes of a 16-10 loss to UMass. The defeat represented the lowest moment of BYU’s seven seasons of independence, and it is hardly a stretch to say that game cost Detmer his job as offensive coordinator.
Originally ticketed for a redshirt season as a freshman, Critchlow became the Cougars’ third starter and the fourth quarterback to play in meaningful moments in 2017. He took over the job after Mangum’s injury in early November and beat UNLV and Hawaii on the road, as BYU scored 31 and 30 points. He won as many games as a freshman starting QB as Taysom Hill did, and one more than Detmer did.
In between, though? Disaster. Critchlow threw four interceptions against UMass.
JOE CRITCHLOW’S 2017 STARTS
UNLV • 14-22, 160 yards, one touchdown, 31-21 win.
UMass • 21-45, 257 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions, 16-10 loss.
Hawaii • 14 of 23, 166 yards, one touchdowns, 30-20 win.
Having joined the program last summer after returning from an LDS Church mission, “I was put in some situations that I wasn’t expecting or anticipating at the beginning of the year, but I felt like I handled what was thrown at me,” Critchlow said. “But I’m really looking forward to going through this year with a better grip on the situation. … I definitely learned a lot from the good experiences and the bad experiences. I’m going to be honest, there were a lot of moments when I didn’t play my best.”
If BYU’s offense also had scored 30-plus points against UMass, who knows? Sitake may have kept his staff mostly intact.
Detmer became part of the fallout of a 4-9 season that is being forgotten at BYU. That’s new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes’ approach, anyway. He told his five assistants (tight ends coach Steve Clark is the only holdover) not to watch any film of last year’s games.
“He asked us to give every player in the program a fresh start,” said quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick.
So although NCAA rules have allowed the coaches to conduct walk-throughs while installing the new offensive scheme, Monday was the first time Roderick watched any of his QBs throw. His first impression? “A lot of completions,” he said. “We have a good group of throwers. I’m not walking around like there’s a black cloud hanging over our heads. We have a good group of quarterbacks.”
There are a bunch of them, that’s for sure. The spring roster lists eight QBs. Critchlow, Mangum and Beau Hoge all could be considered returning starters. Critchlow is now wearing the No. 10 that formerly belonged to Koy Detmer Jr., who has transferred. He’s happy to have a full offseason to work on his footwork and delivery.
Six threw passes in 7-on-7 drills and four — Hoge, Critchlow, Zach Wilson and Kody Wilstead — played in the team portion of the practice. For the sake of both evaluation and individual improvement, “We’ve going to have to whittle it down pretty quickly,” Roderick said.
Roderick, 45, is clean-shaven and looks 10 years younger than he did at the University of Utah, where he wore a beard toward the end of his 12-year tenure. Fired as the Utes’ offensive coordinator in December 2016, Roderick stood on a practice field Monday for the first time in 14 months.
A year away from the profession did him some good. So did getting back to work.
“I had a lot of great family time and some time to reflect on ways I can be a better coach,” Roderick said, “but I had a lot of fun today.”
His quarterbacks seemed to respond well to him. “He’s really detailed,” Hoge said.
The next phase is turning instruction into production. That’s what the Cougars were missing in key moments of 2017, a season that became memorable in Provo for the wrong reasons.