Provo • How desperate is BYU’s football coaching staff to get things turned around in Provo after going 4-9 last season?
They are letting their quarterbacks get hit, tackled and roughed up in spring camp.
The Cougars held their first fully padded live scrimmage Thursday, and despite having to move it indoors due to wintry weather in Provo, quarterbacks Zach Wilson, Beau Hoge and Joe Critchlow were forced to play like they would in a live game.
Tanner Mangum, who is recovering from an Achilles injury, also participated in some live work but was off-limits to tackling.
“It was my idea, and I ran it by the other coaches and they agreed with me,” said quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick. “We need to see these guys play. It is a close race and there are three guys getting the bulk of the reps now, Tanner being the fourth guy.
“I wanted to see those three guys play football and see if we could extend plays, and see if we could do something with the ball in our hands. And I thought it would be good for us to get knocked around a little bit.”
By most accounts, the offense won the day, both in the final team session viewed by media members and the first session that was not. As if to put an exclamation point on the proceedings, Hoge connected with Tariq Buchanan on a 45-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the day.
“On defense, I am not real happy about it,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “[The offense] probably had the upper hand today.”
Wilson, who was wrapping up his coursework at Corner Canyon High just three months ago in order to compete for the starting job this spring, fared well again. Critchlow didn’t get as many reps as Hoge and Wilson, who took the opportunity to show off their legs with a couple nice runs each.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes wasn’t about to crown his offense champions of the day, however.
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “We did a lot of good things, but we still have a lot of work to do. A lot of little things. We fumbled the ball once today, which we are not going to do at all, and it is unacceptable. We are not going to put the ball on the ground, so that was the first thing I talked to them about. … But I think it was our best day yet, in terms of practice, but we still got a long, long way to go.”
As far as letting the green-shirted quarterbacks get tackled, Sitake said it was work the risk.
“To simulate a live game, they have to get hit,” Sitake said. “You can’t protect them all the time, so I think the best way to protect them and the program is let them get hit once in a while. I don’t know how it can be a fair competition if you don’t let them play in a live situation.”
Grimes was pleased with how the quarterbacks responded, and Critchlow said they welcomed the opportunity to play like everybody else does in scrimmages.
“There are a lot of guys who can look good when they know they are not going to get tackled,” Grimes said. “An opportunity to get tackled shows us a lot. So it was a great day for evaluation.”
Mangum, the only senior quarterback of seven signal-callers on the roster (redshirt freshman Kody Wilstead has asked for a release and will transfer) is “ahead of schedule” in his comeback, Roderick said.
“Before spring we thought he might throw a few routes vs. air,” Roderick said. “That went to 7 on 7 [last week] to today where he took some reps against the scout team defense. … He is doing more than I thought and doing a nice job.”