The backstory of BYU’s trick play vs. Arkansas and what it says about the Cougars’ freshman receiver

Kingston was a former quarterback, fighting for reps at a different position in college

Fayetteville, Ark. • The play that turned BYU’s fortunes around in Arkansas didn’t exist two weeks ago. Or at least it didn’t have a home in BYU’s playbook.

The double-pass from quarterback Kedon Slovis to wide receiver Parker Kingston — which ended in a 37-yard Deion Smith touchdown and stymied an Arkansas run — was installed in practice early last week.

Players had a feeling it would be called, but not in the first quarter. And definitely not down 14 points on the road in the SEC.

“I thought it was going to be later in the game,” Kingston said. “When we needed to change momentum. But we needed it early.”

BYU was down 14-0 within the first four minutes of the night. The offense had gone three-and-out twice to and coordinator Aaron Roderick needed to shake something up. A three-score deficit, even that early, felt like it would have been insurmountable.

So Roderick dialed up the special play with 8:28 left in the first quarter. Slovis got the snap and threw it laterally across the field to Kingston. At the same time, Smith leaked out from the backfield and started running in the opposite direction toward the end zone.

As the defense shifted to Kingston assuming it was a screen pass, Smith was left wide open.

The throw was slightly behind Smith, but he mostly walked in for a touchdown. It cut the lead to a one-score game and changed the tenor of what eventually became a 38-31 BYU win.

“We had been running it all week. I knew that if we ran it and executed it like we should, it would be a touchdown,” Kingston said.

BYU running back Deion Smith, center, celebrates with teammates Keanu Hill, left, and Kingsley Suamataia, right, after scoring a touchdown against Arkansas during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The backstory of the play is more interesting, though.

Kingston was a quarterback in high school. He threw for 2,649 yards and 24 touchdowns as a three-year starter at Roy.

So when Roderick introduced the play, it was always going to be Kingston throwing it.

Last year BYU ran a similar double-pass against Baylor with wide receiver Chase Roberts. Coaches said that each receiver took turns in practice throwing the ball to see who was best suited. This time there was no need.

“He had that lefty arm,” Roberts said. “So coming in from that right side throw. He actually played quarterback in high school so we knew from the get-go that Parker was going to be the guy. Nailed it in practice probably 100 times. Kept repping that. So we knew it was going to be executed and it was.”

Slovis said it was one of several trick plays the offense installed throughout the week.

“Every time we ran it in practice it was really clean,” he said. “That was one that we put in and knew was going to get called because of how well it did in practice.”

For Roderick to trust Kingston in that spot was significant, too. Kingston is a redshirt freshman who just cracked into the two-deep this season.

Last spring, Kingston was a dark horse candidate to get snaps. Questions still lingered about how he would transition from a quarterback to wide receiver in college.

But each time, Kingston eventually forced himself into the rotation. And he did so once more with BYU calling his name in the biggest spot this year.

He’d follow up the trick pass with a receiving touchdown later in the game. It cemented something that was already clear: He is one of BYU’s playmakers now, and that can’t be denied.

“A lot of trust in him,” head coach Kalani Sitake. “We have a lot of young guys in this offense that can play. We still haven’t seen all of them. But the moments will come. ... It would be easy for them to just kind of get down and not believe it was going to happen. But we had some guys step up and get some valuable playing time.”