Provo • Barring an unforeseen turn of events in the next 48 hours, freshman quarterback Zach Wilson will make his first college start on Saturday when BYU hosts Hawaii at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Wilson has received the majority of the repetitions in practice this week and will replace senior Tanner Mangum, who started at quarterback in the Cougars’ first six games, according to a source close to the program.
The change comes as no surprise because BYU coach Kalani Sitake hinted that it might be in the works last Monday at his weekly press briefing when he said every starting position was being “evaluated” after the Cougars’ frustrating 45-20 loss to Utah State in which Mangum committed two costly turnovers and Wilson led the offense on a touchdown drive late in the game while most of the Aggies’ starters were still in.
It was also telling that neither Wilson nor Mangum were made available to the media after practice Wednesday night, the first time coaches have directed sports information personnel to keep both of them away from reporters since preseason camp.
Another sign was that offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes took the rare step of addressing the quarterback situation before he was even asked Wednesday as media members gathered around for his traditional post-practice remarks. Why else would he do that if a change wasn’t in the works?
“We are not making an announcement about the quarterback,” Grimes said. “As with any position, there is a possibility that we could start a player that has not started. So yeah, there is a possibility that Zach could start, but we are not making a statement at this time.”
Wilson will be the seventh true freshman to start a game at quarterback for BYU. He was the last player to leave the indoor practice facility after Wednesday’s practice, which is usually the case.
HAWAII AT BYU
When • Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
The product of Draper’s Corner Canyon High looked sharp while directing the Cougars on the six-play, 77-yard touchdown drive last Friday. He showed his athleticism by scrambling for 26 yards on one play, and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Gunner Romney on another. He also played late in the 30-3 win over McNeese in September.
“He has done a good job when he has gotten the chance to be in there,” said quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick, who spoke to reporters after Grimes did and also declined to make a definitive announcement. “And it was definitely a low pressure situation, for sure. But he did a good job. He has done a good job in practices this week preparing. He has always been ready to play. He’s a hard worker.”
Did Wilson win the job with his performance against the Aggies? Or was it his performance in practice? Coaches aren’t saying, but made it clear that the freshman has practiced well even when Mangum won the job a week before the opener at Arizona.
“I thought [Wilson] brought a little spark with his athleticism and he showed some good composure [vs. USU],” Roderick said. “He just kinda went out there and did what he does in practice. In fairness to Tanner, there was a lot less pressure on Zach in that situation than in some of the games Tanner has played in this year. We have had a tough schedule, and we have been in some tough games. I have a lot of respect for how Tanner has battled this year.”
“I am leaning for whatever can get us the best opportunity to win. That’s where I am leaning,” he said.
Both Grimes and Roderick said a quarterback change would not require wholesale changes to the offensive scheme, but could theoretically allow coaches to make some tweaks here and there.
“It depends on who the player is,” Grimes said. “One thing that we’ve done from the onset is we’ve attempted to build a system that is diverse enough that we don’t necessarily have to add new plays, but there will be some wrinkles and some things that are slightly different if Zach were to go into the game, whether that be play one or the beginning of the second quarter.”