BYU in review: Is it time for coach Kalani Sitake to make a quarterback change?

Freshman Zach Wilson relieved Tanner Mangum late in Friday’s 45-20 loss to Utah State and looked sharper than the veteran quarterback

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah State Aggies celebrate the win after defeating BYU, 45-20, at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

Provo • Successive blowout losses to one nationally ranked team, Washington, and another that probably should be, Utah State, have shown that BYU’s football team has a lot of weaknesses and deficiencies.

Inconsistent, mistake-prone quarterback play is just one of them.

But after Friday’s 45-20 loss to the 4-1 Aggies at LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU coach Kalani Sitake wasn’t ready to announce a switch at the marquee position, despite seeing freshman Zach Wilson play well against USU’s reserves in the final three minutes of the game.

Wilson directed a six-play, 77-yard touchdown drive, culminated with an 18-yard scoring strike to fellow freshman Gunner Romney. During the drive he completed a 14-yard pass to Matt Bushman, ran for 26 yards, and threw a 20-yard pass to Talon Shumway.

“There are a lot of things we have to evaluate,” Sitake said when he was asked if coaches considered turning to Wilson earlier in the game after starter Tanner Mangum committed two costly turnovers. “That is at every position, scheme, all that stuff, to see where things broke down.”

Mangum threw for a season-high 270 yards and two touchdowns, but attempted 46 passes, also a season-high.

“I will have to look at the numbers,” Sitake said. “He threw the ball quite a bit because we were in a hole and trying to put up points. That happens, and I will have to see what the reads were and the plays and the routes and evaluate that and get more info on that.”

Shumway took the blame for not coming down with a “great ball” from Mangum on the play before Mangum fumbled at midfield.

“We have good players. We have talented players,” Shumway said. “In any position, we expect guys to come in and play well. That’s what happened [with Wilson]. Yeah, he’s an athlete, so he is going to make good plays. Whenever he is in, he is going to try his best to help us succeed. I think that’s what he did when he had his shot.”

Sitake said he will have more answers to personnel questions on Monday after he spends the weekend reviewing film.

Three takeaways

Utah State is a more talented football team than BYU. Sure, the Aggies were coming off a bye week and had more time to prepare. It was a legitimate concern for Sitake shortly after the loss to Washington and it turned out to be valid. A gadget play that USU used to score its second touchdown was likely hatched during the bye week.

But the Aggies also had other advantages, including a better quarterback and better athletes on both sides of the ball. They were deeper, too, especially at the running back position where Darwin Thompson, Gerold Bright and Aaren Vaughns made big plays.

• BYU really misses star safety Dayan Ghanwoloku. The redshirt junior was injured midway through the Wisconsin game, leaving the Cougars without a bona fide playmaker on defense. Sitake said earlier in the week that the former Northridge High star is “close” to returning. The sooner the better for a defense that gave up 223 rushing yards to the Aggies.

“We missed a lot of tackles,” Sitake said. “That’s not going to help you when you are missing tackles. … I thought Utah State did a good job of getting their guys in space against our guys and we failed to tackle them consistently. That allowed drives to keep going.”

• Defenses have figured out BYU’s jet sweep. The play and its options caught Arizona and Wisconsin by surprise, but Washington and Utah State in successive weeks have shut it down. It was barely used against the Aggies, partly because the Cougars fell behind quickly and were forced to pass. BYU rushed for just 39 yards.

“Truth is, they stuffed us,” Sitake said. “In three games, we had an identity of running the ball, and we need to evaluate everything and find out what we are about.”

Player of the game

* Utah State quarterback Jordan Love. The sophomore from Bakersfield, Calif., showed he is probably the best quarterback in the state, throwing for 165 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for another score. Love ran the Aggies’ run-pass option attack to near perfection, especially during USU’s first two drives of the second half.

“Their quarterback is a great quarterback,” Sitake said. “I was really impressed with him. Just really poised, and he ran the offense really well.”

Play of the game

• Utah State linebacker Pita Galeai’s 56-yard interception return. Mangum apparently didn’t see the TCU transfer lurking on a fourth-down throw when all the Cougars needed for a first down was a half-yard, and Galeai made a fantastic play in snaring the close-in pass and then turning it into a pick-six.

“I think he just jumped up and snagged it,’ said Bushman. “It was fourth and short and it definitely was a big momentum swing.”

Looking ahead

The Cougars host a Mountain West foe for the second-straight weekend as Hawaii makes a visit to LaVell Edwards Stadium next Saturday. The Warriors were 5-1 entering Saturday night’s late game against Wyoming in Honolulu and will be looking to get their first win in Provo.


When • Oct. 13, 8:15 p.m.