Before the season began, BYU football coach Kalani Sitake and his staff weren’t worried about how their offense would look without Zach Wilson. Jaren Hall and the team’s other top quarterback options brought enough of the same skills that they would plug right in, coaches said.
That didn’t mean fans should expect as much razzle-dazzle as they saw last season from the future NFL draft pick.
And that’s OK.
Hall may not have the same type of swagger Wilson oozed each time he took the field. But the BYU quarterback has proven himself to be the right man to be Wilson’s successor so far, leading the Cougars to a 3-0 start on the 2021 season.
“You can just tell [Hall’s] in command now,” offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said. “When he played in those couple of games a couple of years ago, things were happening pretty fast for him. He still played well, but he didn’t have nearly the command over the full scheme that he has now.”
For the most part, Hall’s passing stats have been modest. Against Utah, Hall put up a comparable performance on the ground game, nearly rushing for 100 yards and nearly matching the Cougars’ top rusher.
But those numbers don’t matter — at least not to the coaches. What the staff does care about is how Hall is able to manage a game and take care of the ball.
“The fans might not notice that the 10-yard run that Tyler Allgeier just got was because Jaren got us into the right play and the play that I called was not as good into the defense that they gave us,” Roderick said. “Some of those things kinda go unseen, but he’s doing a great job.”
There’s also another reason Hall hasn’t put up numbers like those fans became accustomed to last year from Wilson: the competition is different.
Because of the pandemic, BYU’s original schedule was completely upended. With many conferences, particularly Power Five conferences, opting to play a conference-only schedule, BYU scrapped together what it could to play a full schedule.
That meant playing more lower-level FBS teams, as well as FCS teams.
With a watered-down schedule, Wilson was able to throw as much as he liked. Many times, Wilson would step out of the game after just one half, after putting up numbers comparable to a full game.
Hall hasn’t been as fortunate.
BYU has faced two top 25 teams that boast much tougher defenses.
Now, Hall will look for another win against South Florida — the team he got his first start against back in 2019. Back then, the Cougars let a fourth-quarter lead disappear. They hope to have different results this time around.
QB Elite coach Dustin Smith, who has worked closely with Hall, believes the BYU quarterback focuses more on getting the team a win rather that personal stats.
“There’s been opportunities where he could have done things to add to his stat line in these games, but he has chosen to make the right decision and make sure they win the game,” Smith said. “These teams they’ve been playing this year are quite a bit different defensively and athletically than the teams that they played last year. Some of the big throws that add up to big yards haven’t been there because they’ve been playing some pretty good defenses.”
Back in 2019, when the Cougars last played USF, the defense allowed the Bulls to score 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, which led to BYU’s third consecutive loss. The loss hurt more as it was seen as the second consecutive loss in what was seen as a winnable game.
The week prior, at Toledo, BYU also gave up a fourth-quarter lead.
At the time, Sitake took accountability for the loss and said they will look into fixing the defense. They did.
Since the loss to USF in Oct. 2019, BYU has gone 19-3.
Sitake said the team went back to believing in its identity and belief in the system. The Cougars were able to get back on course and focus on the gratitude of what they do and who they play for, he said.
“So I think the young men, their approach, and the coaches, really buy into what we get to do,” Sitake said. “And it just happens that we were able to get some wins along the way. That’s basically it.”
While more of a stoic leader, Hall has been able to continue the quarterback legacy Wilson reignited at BYU.
And those close to Hall say there’s still so much growth ahead for the quarterback, a fourth-year sophomore who has only started in five games in his career.
USF is bound to get a much different look from Hall this time around.
“He’s going to be focused on improving on the mistakes he made last week and just get a little bit better every week,” Smith said. “If he can come and improve on the mistakes he made last week and continue to execute the way that he’s been executing these first three games, they’ll handle this team just fine. That’s the way he’s looking at it. I would doubt he’s giving much thought at all to the last time they played [USF] because, as I said, it was a completely different team and circumstances.”