Provo • The worst kept secret in Provo was officially let out of the bag on Monday.
BYU’s great quarterback derby of 2018 is now down to two candidates: senior Tanner Mangum and freshman Zach Wilson. The youngest and oldest of the contestants for the starting job when the Cougars open against Arizona on Sept. 1 have separated themselves for quite some time now, and solidified that feeling among the coaches with their play in Saturday’s closed scrimmage.
“We feel like Tanner and Zach right now are the two guys we are going to concentrate our reps on,” offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said after Monday’s practice. “Those two guys have been neck and neck since the day that we started, and have outperformed the other guys, so those two guys will be the ones who will be getting all the reps with the ones, and most of the reps with the twos.”
Grimes said the two other quarterbacks in the race, sophomore Joe Critchlow and freshman returned missionary Jaren Hall, are neck and neck for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
Hall “has done some really nice things, and Joe has, too. He’s just been outperformed by those other two guys,” Grimes said.
Quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick said both Mangum and Wilson were 16 of 21 throwing the football Saturday. More importantly, none of the quarterbacks committed a turnover.
“They have both done a good job pushing each other,” Roderick said. “They have had a lot of completions out here. They are making my job tough because they’ve both been very sharp. We have a lot of work to do still, but I am impressed with both of them. I am impressed with how they’ve pushed each other and the way they work together. That goes for the whole group. We’ve got a good group of quarterbacks.”
Asked if coaches have a target date to name a starter, Grimes laughed and said Sept. 1.
“Maybe sooner than that,” he allowed. “I think the most important thing is naming the right guy rather than at the right time. Sooner rather than later is good, but we haven’t tied ourselves down to a certain day yet.”
Last Friday, Roderick hinted that coaches may not announce a starter until kickoff in an attempt to keep Arizona guessing. Mangum and Wilson are quite different, with Mangum having the experience and pocket presence, and Wilson more dynamic and mobile.
Wilson took off with the ball several times in Monday’s team session at the end of practice, showing off the wheels that helped him gain nearly 800 yards on the ground last fall at Corner Canyon High in Draper.
Roderick said Critchlow, who was the odds-on favorite to win the job when camp began, according to at least one offshore sports book, took the news “like a pro.”
“Joe is an awesome kid, a great character guy,” Roderick said. “I can’t say enough good things about him. Joe is a good player. I know we could win games with Joe as well. I feel like Tanner and Zach have had an edge over him thus far. But Joe is the kind of guy that every time you count him out, he just keeps hanging around. That’s the type of guy he is. That’s how he earned a scholarship here. That’s how he won a couple games for this team last year. There is no quit in that kid.”
Moving forward, Roderick said the fact that Wilson is just a freshman who was playing high school ball at this time last year will have no bearing on the decision.
“It is not a factor for me,” Roderick said. “The best guy is going to play at every position on this team. Coach Grimes has been really demanding of our offense. We are not going to lower the bar for anybody. They have to play up to our expectations at every position. And it doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you have been here. It is not a factor.”
Mangum said “nothing changes” in the way he approaches every day despite being in the final two.
“Every day we still have to have the same mindset,” he said. “Just go out and do our job each play. Just take it one play at a time. I have said that over and over again. That’s just how you have to approach it. Then everything else will take care of itself.”