Provo • Jeff Grimes stayed dry Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium because he opted to call plays from the press box as rained poured down for the second straight year at BYU’s spring scrimmage.
Then the new offensive coordinator threw a bit of a wet blanket on the offense’s performance, which was considerably better than the defense’s outing in the simulated game that featured roughly 70 plays and a few intermittent field goal attempts in front of an announced crowd of 7,500.
“I thought it was OK,” Grimes said. “The thing I was most pleased with was we didn’t turn the ball over, which was a real positive and will always be one of our top goals.”
There also were no false starts, one holding penalty and one intentional grounding penalty, but Grimes clearly is going to be a hard man to please as he tries to revive a unit that struggled mightily last season.
“I think it was a pretty good day,” Grimes eventually acknowledged. “We didn’t make a lot of explosive plays, but the guys grounded it out and scored a few times. … It was a good finish, but I think it could have been better. I think we practiced a little bit better, at times, than we played today.”
What the offense did do was move the ball and score against a watered down defense that held out several top contributors such as Khyiris Tonga, Zayne Anderson and Butch Pau’u and used sparingly others such as Sione Takitaki and Dayan Ghanwoloku.
The offense drove for four touchdowns and a field goal in the seven possessions that were directed by the three quarterbacks with legitimate chances to be named the starter before the Sept. 1 opener at Arizona.
Running back Squally Canada scored three of those touchdowns on runs of 7, 5, and 4 yards and finished with 55 yards on seven carries. The other TD came on a 19-yard pass from sophomore Joe Critchlow to top receiver Micah Simon.
“On offense, we were all confident that we would go in and play well today,” said Simon, who finished with four catches for 73 yards, including a one-handed grab for 43 on the opening possession.
The defense had precious few highlights. Linebacker Nate Sampson broke up a pass and Devin Kaufusi almost sacked freshman quarterback Zach Wilson. Linebackers Isaiah Kaufusi and Christian Folau made some nice plays.
Coach Kalani Sitake, who has spent considerable time working with the defense in spring camp, was not overly concerned and mentioned several times that he wasn’t working with a full deck on that side of the ball.
“Defensive line, I thought we could have done a lot better, been a lot more stout,” Sitake said. “But I was really happy with everything. … We had some opportunities to get some turnovers and didn’t do that. Didn’t see enough pressure on the quarterback, either.”
Quarterbacks were not off-limits to contact, and Wilson and Hoge were able to show off their wheels several times. Senior Tanner Mangum made some throws in the skelly drills but did not play in the scrimmage as he recovers from an Achilles injury.
Mangum said he will be cleared for full contact in a couple of weeks and looks forward to the battle this fall.
But the QB who made the most progress Saturday in the four-man race to be the 2018 starter was the guy who finished 2017 as the starter, Critchlow. He got the ball first and directed a 75-yard TD drive then engineered a 63-yard drive that culminated in a 21-yard field goal by Andrew Mikkelsen. Critchlow capped his 3-for-3 scoring effort with a 69-yard touchdown drive that ended with the TD pass to Simon.
“Individually, there were definitely things that I could improve on,” said Critchlow, ever humble. “The thing I was most pleased with today is that I sustained some really nice drives. I drove down the field and got a field goal and two touchdowns. If we are putting points on the board then I am doing my job. That’s what I am looking for.”
Hoge, who has battled a foot injury in camp, got two opportunities, the second and fifth possessions, and was 2 of 4 for 20 yards. He ran five times for 32 yards. Wilson got the third and sixth possessions and was 4 of 7 for 29 yards and ran three times for 25 yards. Freshmen Baylor Romney and Stacy Conner got one series apiece in the final minutes of the 80-minute scrimmage.
• Quarterback Joe Critchlow completed 9 of 12 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.
• Receiver Micah Simon caught four passes for 73 yards, including a one-handed grab for 43 yards and a 19-yard touchdown catch.
• Running back Squally Canada had seven carries for 55 yards and three touchdowns.