Provo • All the smoky murkiness brought on by wildfires throughout the West that has enveloped the Wasatch Front the past few days has nothing on the BYU quarterback derby.
Heading into Saturday’s scrimmage that will be closed to the media and the general public, the race to be the starting quarterback for the Sept. 1 opener at Arizona is as clear as the air in Provo.
“It’s bad,” freshman quarterback Zach Wilson said Friday after the Cougars practiced inside again. “You can barely see the ‘Y’ on the mountain.”
Everybody agrees on that. As far as when they will announce a starter, let alone who it will be, nobody really knows.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake hinted that some official news could come Monday — perhaps a paring down to two candidates — while quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick threw out the possibility that coaches may decide to not announce anything at all and make everyone wait until the 8:45 p.m. MDT kickoff at Arizona Stadium.
“At the moment, not yet,” Sitake said when he was asked if the race has been whittled down. “We will have to scrimmage first [on Saturday]. Maybe on Monday. You guys may have to wait. … Ask me on Monday. You guys ask me every day, so it’s OK.”
Moments later, Roderick acknowledged that four quarterbacks will get the chance to show what they can do Saturday — senior Tanner Mangum, sophomore Joe Critchlow and freshmen Jaren Hall and Wilson — but most likely will not be “live,” meaning they cannot be tackled.
“I don’t know if we will announce it at all,” Roderick said. “Yeah, we haven’t decided on that yet. I mean, why announce it if there is no advantage to announcing it? I don’t know if we will or not. I am not sure. We are still working our way through that.”
Both Critchlow and Wilson told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday that coaches have given no indication what the depth chart at quarterback currently looks like. Much was made Monday of Critchlow not getting any reps in the media viewing portion of the 11 on 11 scrimmage, but the big redhead said fans and the media should not read anything into that.
“The message has been pretty consistent,” said Critchlow, who started three games last fall. “It has been: improve yourself as a player and get this offense down as well as you can. As far as a decision on the quarterback battle, I am sure it will come closer to the season opener. … The message is that no decision has been made and to keep battling on every single rep.”
Critchlow admitted that he had “some rough days in practice” before Monday’s team session, “but I have been getting my shot to prove myself and I think I will continue to get that moving forward.”
Whatever the case, all agree that Saturday’s scrimmage is huge for the quarterbacks.
“We still have an open mind about it,” Roderick said. “I have seen a little bit of separation at times. Not enough that I am willing to say [who is leading], but tomorrow’s scrimmage is important, and if the trends continue then we will maybe start talking more openly about it next week, or maybe the end of next week.”
Told that Sitake said he might have some news on the race on Monday, Roderick said he could also see that happening.
“Again, tomorrow is a big day,” Roderick said. “You gotta do it on the field. That’s the message I have been trying to send this whole time. You gotta earn it. I am not going to just announce something that hasn’t been earned.”
Neither Sitake nor Roderick offered details on what the scrimmage would entail, and the quarterbacks themselves weren’t sure if they would be live — as they often were in spring camp — or protected by the green jerseys.
“The coaches are always doing something different,” Wilson said. “Some days they might play four guys. Some days one particular guy might get a little bit more work to see how he reacts to certain things. We are getting closer to the season, so I am sure they have to make a decision soon.”
It just might not be announced soon — if at all.