Palo Alto, Calif. • Kalani Sitake would have preferred for his backup quarterback to break into the 2022 season last week against Utah Tech.
It would have set up perfectly for the Cougars. Jacob Conover could come in against an FCS opponent, with the game in hand, and throw the ball.
But it didn’t work that way. BYU couldn’t put the game away last week. So, Conover’s first real action had to come late Saturday on the road in a two-score game. With starting quarterback Jaren Hall sidelined with an ankle injury, Conover played the final 19 minutes against Stanford.
The only issue was, Conover really didn’t get to do much in this game either. He played 29 real snaps, minus the kneel-downs. He passed the ball just once. So, was that a sign of a lack of confidence in the backup quarterback, or simply just how the game went?
“I don’t know if that was the time,” Sitake said about Conover throwing the ball. “In looking at it, Jaren threw 11 times. ... I felt like, just looking at the offensive game plan, I just felt like we were doing good with the run game. That was the outcome right there. It doesn’t really matter to me, just wanted to get the win. We could have made it a lot easier on ourselves.”
It was true that BYU barely threw the ball even when Hall was in the game. This entire game plan was predicated on running the football, so why wouldn’t it continue with Conover under center?
The Cougars ran it for a season-high 358 yards and had 13 carries of 10-plus yards. Chris Brooks was getting five yards before even getting touched by the Stanford defense. Almost any rusher that BYU decided to go with was finding success. Hinckley Ropati had 85 yards rushing. Hall had 69 yards and a touchdown himself.
By the time Conover came in, BYU was running it so well it could go entire drives without throwing and still score. Plus, with the Stanford offense starting to wake up down the stretch, it made sense to run the ball and drain the clock.
On Conover’s first drive, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick called 10 running plays and BYU scored on a 75-yard march down the field.
“We knew that we were going to be able to run the ball coming into this game,” Hall said. “Couldn’t have dreamed of this. That was insane how well they were moving the line of scrimmage. Moving the edges, opening up gaps. It was fun to watch. Handing the ball off the Chris and [Hinckley Ropati] and seeing it open up was a thing of beauty.”
Hall himself finished with a season-low 93 passing yards because he only got 11 attempts in the three quarters he played.
But here is the part that leads to some questions about Conover. If Hall is not able to play in a bowl game — even though he insists he will — Conover will be the man leading the offense. He will have no choice but to throw.
And after today, even if it wasn’t intentional and it was the right move, there wasn’t much confidence put into Conover either. He had one pass play, a screen that was quickly blown up. He finished 0-for-1, his first throw of the season. He also wasn’t given the opportunity to throw on early downs, as Hall was able to do at times during the game.
It would be understandable that Conover wouldn’t throw as much as Hall, but one short screen pass was very limiting.
But for now, BYU is sticking with the mantra that Conover could have thrown more, the game just didn’t dictate it. It will be truly seen if the third-year player has to start in a bowl game.
“Jacob is a great quarterback,” offensive lineman Blake Freeland said. “Nobody freaked out with Jaren being down... As an offensive line, we knew in the fourth quarter we needed to run the ball. We got that done.”