Morgantown, W.V.a • Want to know how much faith BYU had in its backup quarterback? Look no further than the first seven plays of the game in Morgantown.
They went like this: Five passes, a quarterback keeper and a quarterback run-pass-option, going for it on a fourth-and-two near midfield.
So yes, head coach Kalani Sitake certainly trusted Jake Retzlaff in his first start at BYU.
In a way, Retzlaff rewarded him by going 24-of-42 for 210 yards and no turnovers. The 37-7 loss, and the 57% completion percentage, weren’t good. But mixed in those stats were flashes of a quarterback who could be BYU’s starter a year from now.
The arm strength and the mobility, two of Retzlaff’s calling cards, were evident most of the night.
“I thought he played hard,” Sitake said. “Threw the ball with great velocity and accuracy. I like what he did in the game.”
There were moments to like. He was 5-of-8 on third down. He scrambled 10 times for 26 yards. He pushed the ball down field, completing five passes of 15-plus yards.
Maybe more impressive was what he didn’t do. He limited three-and-outs (only two this week). He didn’t turn the ball over even as the offensive line didn’t protect him. He was sacked three times, but ran away from several more. He gave the offense a mobile quarterback look that it didn’t have all year.
Some of his best throws came off scrambles where he was on one leg — including one to Keelan Marion down the sideline for a first down. That is a dynamic element Kedon Slovis has not yet provided. It allowed Retzlaff to extend some plays, and drives, where nothing was there.
“It just seemed like Jake was running a little bit too much, couldn’t settle his feet,” Sitake said, acknowledging the protection for Retzlaff was poor. “Got some hurries and he took some shots.”
There were missed throws too — growing pains for a first-time starter. BYU also didn’t score until late in the fourth quarter and was nearly shut out for the first time since 2017.
“It is hard to say, sitting here right now, how I played,” Retzlaff said. “How we played was 37-7 at the end of the day. ... We’ve just got to play better as a unit and put some points on the board. We didn’t do that this week.”
But Retzlaff’s performance at least gave the coaching staff something to think about going forward.
Sitake will inevitably have to battle the options now of playing Retzlaff and letting him grow, versus going back to Slovis. A part of that will be whether Slovis is actually healthy to play.
“Kedon has been banged up for a little bit now. The Texas game kind of put him in danger,” Sitake said. “The competition between him and Jake, Jake was 100% healthy and good to go [this week]. The competition will still happen.
“I think for Kedon it is a day-to-day, week-to-week type deal. We will play the best guy. If somebody is injured and they can play at a high level, that’s what we will go with. If not, we will play with a healthy guy that can go.”
Retzlaff can theoretically play in all of BYU’s remaining games and maintain his redshirt. He was asked if he thought he earned the right to play moving forward, even if Slovis is healthy.
“I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. That is not my decision,” Rezlaff said. “That’s [offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick’s] decision at the end of the day.”
But the one thing Retzlaff did know on Saturday was he felt he belonged. The Big 12 wasn’t too big for the junior college transfer. And that is something BYU can work with.
“Yeah, I think so,” Retzlaff said when asked if he felt he could play at this level. “I don’t think there was a doubt going into this game. A-Rod wouldn’t put somebody on the field who couldn’t. It wasn’t a matter of if I could play at the level. It was just a matter of going out and executing the offense. And we didn’t do that well tonight.”