Eye on the Y: The real importance of BYU vs. Utah Tech

Plus: Redshirts will start to play, and how big of a problem are Rudi Williams’ turnovers?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jacob Conover (17), warms up before the game between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Baylor Bears, at Lavell Edwards Stadium, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

In about a month, there will be a quarterback decision for BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick to make. It will be the first, and perhaps most important, decision of the early Big 12 era in Provo.

If all goes according to plan, Jaren Hall will move on to the NFL after a two-year term as the starter. And whenever the bowl game ends, the clock will officially begin on finding his successor.

That’s what makes this week, a game against FCS opponent Utah Tech, so intriguing. Conventional wisdom would say this is a chance for Roderick to get a head start on that decision. Play some backups in the second half, get a look at the talent inside the quarterback room.

Before we go further into why that’s important, let’s set up the landscape that Roderick is looking at for life after Hall.

As it stands today, it looks like it’s a race between current backup Jacob Conover or a potential transfer quarterback.

Sure, a third-string quarterback like Cade Fennegan or a young player like Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters could theoretically make a run at the starting role. But judging by Roderick’s strong support of Conover over the spring and summer, it makes you think the third-year player has a lead on everyone on the current roster.

But if this really is a battle between Conover and the portal, there is a big issue: Conover has next to no tape for BYU to assess.

He has 10 career pass attempts and hasn’t played a meaningful snap in 2022. We heard from the coaching staff how much improvement Conover made over the spring in terms of running the offense — but nobody has seen it in a game.

This week BYU could get some real data on whether Conover can be the quarterback of the future.

When you look at how the schedule fell this year, there couldn’t be a better time to play Conover. Coming off a bye week in which most of the starters were resting, the backups (including Conover) took the majority of the reps on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, per Kalani Sitake. It gives Conover a chance to have nearly two weeks to prepare to play. The last time he threw a pass — on Nov. 6, 2021, against Idaho State — he had to come in in an emergency role.

And while it is true that nothing Conover does against an FCS opponent will directly translate to being Big 12 ready, it at least colors the picture a bit more for Roderick, who is essentially working with a blank slate after Hall.

Come January, assuming Hall is preparing for the NFL Draft, BYU won’t have a single quarterback on the roster who has started a game for the Cougars. Really, BYU won’t have a quarterback that has attempted more than 28 career passes.

It is also not like the transfer portal, if BYU does go that route, offers any more guarantees in terms of experience. Regardless of who would be brought in, they won’t have started a single game in Roderick’s offense. As we saw this year, experience elsewhere does not automatically translate to success at BYU.

Look at Chris Brooks, a four-year running back at Cal who was theoretically made for the starting role at BYU. He has less than 500 yards this year and was essentially benched for two weeks in the second month of the year.

So, this game is important for Conover. At least it will be another data point.

Redshirts getting a look

Speaking of playing some backups, this is also a prime opportunity for redshirts to start playing.

There are only three games left this year (including a likely bowl game). The four-game limit for redshirting is off the table.

“We are trying to get them caught up to play and get them a role,” head coach Kalani Sitake said last week.

So where might that be?

The first place to look is on the defensive side and giving depth to a decimated unit. It looks likely, at this point, that Max Tooley, Payton Wilgar and Chaz Ah You will be out for the season. Others are unknown but it doesn’t look promising.

Another place would be special teams. It is an easier place for a younger player to break in.

Players I would be interested in seeing are wide receiver Parker Kingston or tight end Anthony Olsen. Both have made trips this year but haven’t played. They could play big roles down the line for BYU.

Rudi Williams’ turnover problem

Transfer point guard Rudi Williams had eight turnovers against San Diego State on Friday. He is averaging six turnovers per game in his first week on the job.

Is it time to sound the alarm? Well, it might be given how this team is constructed.

Right now, Williams is being used in over 28% of the team’s possessions — among the highest usage rates in the country.

Pope essentially gambled Williams would be the generator for his new-look offense. Everything would revolve around Williams’ ability to push the ball up the court and distribute it to a younger team. But what happens when the generator isn’t working?

With Williams’ turnovers, we have seen this offense grind to a halt. Possessions are getting killed early in the shot clock. There is very rarely a second or third rotation of the ball, something this offense was predicated on.

Just look at Williams’ assist rate, which is assists divided by the field goals made by the player’s teammates while he is on the court. His rate is 16.8, one of the lowest in the country. It means that the offense just doesn’t work when he is on the floor. That is a problem because of how much he is playing and how big of a piece he is to this offense.