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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
BYU quarterback Joe Critchlow warms up in Provo on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.
Growing up, I always loved the football atmosphere of the South. Being able to go back close to home is a great opportunity.

BYU (1-5) at Mississippi State (3-2)

Saturday, 10 a.m. MDT Davis Wade Stadium TV: SEC Network

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM

PROVO — BYU freshman quarterback Joe Critchlow grew up in the Nashville, Tennessee, area with a BYU flag, signed by Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, hanging in his bedroom.

Detmer, who's now the Cougars’ offensive coordinator, said Tanner Mangum will start Saturday (10 a.m., MDT, SEC Network) when BYU visits Mississippi State. But with backup Beau Hoge sidelined again this week due to injury, Critchlow, who was projected to redshirt this season up until a couple of weeks ago, is expected to see more action as the season continues — possibly this weekend against the Bulldogs.

With about two minutes remaining in the Cougars’ 24-7 loss to Boise State last Friday, Critchlow, who returned home in June from his LDS mission, replaced Mangum and made his collegiate debut, completing 2 of 4 passes for 8 yards.

“The coaches gave me a good opportunity to get a feel for the offense as I transition from a redshirt mode to a playing mode,” Critchlow said. “I was just excited to be able to see the field. It’s been a long time since I played football. But I really did enjoy it. I felt the jitters, I felt the excitement. I’m anxious to get some more playing time in, for sure.”

Having followed the Southeastern Conference as a kid, Critchlow is looking forward to the trip to Davis Wade Stadium to face an SEC opponent. Nashville is 286 miles northeast of Starkville, Mississippi.

“Growing up, I always loved the football atmosphere of the South. Being able to go back close to home is a great opportunity,” said the 6-foot-4, 200-pound redhead. “I have a lot of family that will be able to come to the game. All of the football teams down South are great. Great programs, great athletes. It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to show ourselves in an environment like that.”

Last week, as Mangum was hampered by an ankle injury, Critchlow received more reps in practice and he gotten plenty of snaps this week, too.

How much could Critchlow play this weekend?

“It depends on how the game’s going,” Detmer said. “If Tanner’s seeing it and making the right reads and doing all the right things, then we’re going to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win. If we’re not, we expect Joe to go in and play. That will be determined on the situation of the game and how Tanner’s playing.”

Detmer explained that there was a purpose behind Critchlow’s appearance late in the game against Boise State.

“We didn’t play him at the end to waste a year for him. He’s got to be ready to play at any moment,” he said. “That was a time in the game where it felt like we could get him in, get him some reps and get some game time because it’s been a while for him. Let him get that feel and the juices flowing and be ready for the next time.”

Detmer added that Critchlow has progressed at a rapid rate.

“He picked up the offense really quick this summer when he got back and had a pretty good feel for it,” he said. “It’s one thing to learn it on paper and on a board and it’s another thing to be out there running it and having it happen naturally for you. That’s why I wanted to get him a few reps at the end of the game. He’s a really poised young man. He understands it. … He got the play call, lined up, made his reads and got it out. It’s hard to evaluate four plays in a game. But I liked the poise that he brought. If we didn’t think he could handle it, we wouldn’t have him in there.”

As a record-setting passer at Franklin High School, Critchlow was recruited by programs like Georgia, Vanderbilt, Memphis, Wake Forest and Virginia. But those schools shied away when Critchlow let them know his plans to serve a mission. He signed with Southern Utah prior to his mission.

Last February, months before he returned home, he signed with BYU after being granted a release from SUU. Former SUU coach Ed Lamb is now on Kalani Sitake’s staff in Provo.

“I’m very happy to be here at BYU,” Critchlow said.

What does Sitake like about Critchlow?

“He has a good arm. He goes through his reads right,” he said. “We saw a lot improvement from him since returning from his mission. There’s a lot of our guys that got home from their missions that really made a strong push in conditioning and getting closer to getting rid of their ‘mission legs.’ He’s one that’s been pushing it at a pretty good pace.”

After the initial adjustments of returning home from a mission, Critchlow said, he’s feeling more comfortable.

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“I definitely faced a transition period. I was not in football form when I got back,” he said. “Credit to a great strength staff and what the coaches have been able to do in giving me a lot of reps. I feel like my body has gotten into football shape. I’ve put on quite a bit of weight, I’ve kept my speed so I feel really confident in being able to play.”

What did Mangum think of Critchlow’s debut?

“He did a good job getting in there. It’s a tough spot, two minutes to go,” Mangum said. “But with the plays he got he did the best he could. He’s a hard worker. He’s very excited to be here and has a great attitude. He’s always trying to get better. It’s going to pay off for him.”