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Senior quarterback Tanner Mangum is about to play the most important half of football in his up-and-down college career.

If Mangum struggles to move the offense and score points in the first half of Saturday’s game at No. 6 Wisconsin, look for coaches to turn to freshman Zach Wilson to finish out the game, several people with close ties to the program said earlier this week.

Patience with Mangum is wearing thin in Provo, and the senior has been “put on notice,” multiple sources said. He is still getting the most reps in practice this week, but Wilson’s opportunities with the first-team offense have increased.

That’s not a big surprise, considering coach Kalani Sitake said Saturday after the 21-18 loss to Cal that Mangum has “got to get better,” and pretty much reiterated that stance in his weekly Monday news conference.

“We are always evaluating how we can get the best athletes in the best position for us to win,” Sitake said. “That’s all I care about.”

Asked Wednesday by 1280 The Zone if Mangum is firmly entrenched as the starter, passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick said no offensive player’s starting position is secure.

“If you play well, you keep your job. If you don’t play well, someone else will get their chance,” he said. “But one so-so game [against Cal] isn’t enough to pull the rug out.”

Coaches and players talked all offseason about the need for more accountability, but Mangum declined to talk about his performance against Cal — or even what he learned in defeat — when he met with reporters Wednesday night after practice.

“I am just moving on to Wisconsin,” he said. The loss to Cal in which he completed just 22 of 41 passes for 196 yards and threw two interceptions “feels like a long time ago.”

In fairness, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes acknowledged Wednesday that he told the players to not talk about past games once the new week begins.

You practice how you play

Junior tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau caused a bit of a stir after Saturday’s loss when he said the Cougars actually lost the game “three days ago in practice, in preparation.” He said the Cougars suffered “kind of a lull."

Grimes addressed the topic after Wednesday’s practice, saying that perhaps Laulu-Pututau was right.

“It wasn’t terrible,” he said. “By most standards, I think it would have been a decent week of practice. But we want to hold our guys to such a high standard at practice that when they get to the game that it is easy because you have done it correctly so many times. We just didn’t have that last week."

Grimes also acknowledged, “Maybe we lost a little something there by thinking about that win against Arizona a little too long.”

The first-time OC said he didn’t call a good enough game vs. Cal because the Cougars didn’t score enough points, and didn’t win.

“It all comes back to me,” he said. “I just watch the game over and over and I think my way back through the calls and I say, ‘I wish I had that one back right there.’ ”

Rounding Them Up

In case you missed them, here are some of the stories, player profiles and columns The Trib has brought to you this week:

• BYU’s 21-18 loss to California was a perfect example of an opportunity lost. The Cougars' defense played well enough to deliver a victory, but the offense blew its many chances. Here’s my analysis. Trib

• Tribune columnist Gordon Monson says BYU’s offense lacks big-time playmakers and isn’t talented enough to sustain long scoring drives. Trib

• Kalani Sitake’s reply when I asked him during Monday’s news conference if coaches ever considered pulling Mangum in favor of Wilson during the Cal game when the offense was going nowhere. Trib

• It is no secret that BYU’s coaches greatly admire Saturday’s opponent, Wisconsin. Sitake said after last year’s 40-6 beatdown and several times this week that his program needs to take advantage of its ability to attract outstanding offensive and defensive linemen and build around that strength, much as Wisconsin has done. Trib

• Junior safety Austin Lee has emerged as a critical part of BYU’s defense, rotating with Dayan Ghanwoloku and Troy Warner this season. Here’s Lee’s interesting backstory, including how he started his college career at rival Utah. Trib

Views From Elsewhere

• Sean Walker detailed the importance of team unity as the Cougars suffered their first loss of the season. KSL

• Here’s an interesting look from Jody Genessy on how former BYU basketball star Shawn Bradley got so tall. DNews

• Here’s the Wisconsin State Journal’s take on the struggling BYU offense, which will face the Badgers' incredible defense at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. State Journal

Quotable

As was reported Monday, BYU offensive lineman Tristen Hoge, a transfer from Notre Dame, gathered his teammates in the locker room shortly after the loss to Cal and delivered an emotional plea. Here’s why Hoge said he took it upon himself to address the team:

“The biggest thing I wanted to do was avert what happened last year and not let the poison of complacency and that feeling of getting used to it set in,” he said. “As I said, it is a poison. I couldn’t wait one second. I had to do it immediately, and get everyone in there and tell it to them straight.”

Elsewhere on campus

• BYU’s undefeated women’s volleyball team is ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time since 1986 and has been crushing opponents en route to an 8-0 record. The Cougars swept No. 10 USC and Syracuse last weekend at the Marquette Invitational and then dropped the tournament host in four sets. They host No. 24 Utah Thursday night in Provo.

• BYU’s women’s soccer team outlasted Utah 3-2 in Salt Lake City on Friday night at Ute Field to improve to 3-2-1 this season. Like the football team (and the women’s volleyball team last week) the Cougars travel to Wisconsin this weekend and will play at Marquette on Friday.

• The BYU men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have returned to the new Richards Building Pool, which has been under construction the past year and a half.