PROVO — Quarterback play may be one of the biggest factors in determining victories, and when BYU travels to UNLV for a Friday reunion with the Rebels, this position will loom large.
BYU lost starter Tanner Mangum for the season at Fresno after he ruptured his Achilles. UNLV beat Hawaii at home last week with backup quarterback Johnny Stanton making a playmaking appearance for Rebel stud runner Armani Rogers.
Cougar defenders will face either Stanton or Rogers. It could be Rogers if the season-long starter meets concussion protocol. Stanton sparked the Rebels last week by completing 18 of 26 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns while running for another.
Stanton gives UNLV some momentum facing BYU and hopes of a bowl game will give the Rebels motivation Friday night in Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Cougars face a different challenge, a kaleidoscope, really.
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer has reinvented his offense and leadership at quarterback at least three times this season and Friday night will be the fourth. Mangum was having his best game of the year last week when he left the game with just over 10 minutes and the outcome still in the balance.
To wit: Detmer’s first offense was the one he designed in August with Mangum in mind. It struggled in the opener against Portland State, never crossed midfield against LSU, and sputtered against Utah, with Mangum getting injured on the final play of the game.
Detmer then redesigned his offense to use more read-pass option and shotgun formations with Beau Hoge against then No. 10-ranked Wisconsin. It gained traction before Hoge was injured at Utah State on Sept. 29.
The next Monday, Detmer took a recovering Mangum (high ankle sprain) and tweaked shotgun formations — getting away from under-center hikes — and began again with Mangum in losses Oct. 6 against Boise State and the next two weeks at Mississippi State and ECU before a win peeked its head out against SJSU on Oct. 28.
At Fresno State, when Mangum went down, he reinserted Hoge, who didn’t look like he was fully recovered or completely mobile in the loss. That night began his fourth tweak of the offense and QB position.
Hoge has shown to have a strong arm. He’s a decent runner with good mobility. At USU, he looked very sharp with a myriad of throws. But if he doesn’t have his mobility, one of his best traits will be taken off the table.
This week, Detmer said he’d look at Hoge, see how healthy he looks in practices, while also giving freshman Joe Critchlow more reps and even looking hard at another freshman, Kody Wilstead.
The most intriguing thing about this game is how Detmer will decide who to start and who will finish at QB Friday night. Who will be more effective running an offense that has struggled to get on track all season?
The best choice, of several very prickly ones, may just be to start a healthy Critchlow and roll the dice, although Hoge, when healthy, is impressive.
A week ago, after what appeared to be a first-half injury to Mangum’s ankle, Mangum was cleared to return for the second half. Mangum wanted it, believed he could deliver. Detmer went with it. Mangum’ s junior year ended almost a quarter later.
With that memory in mind, even if Hoge isn’t 100 percent, how hard do you throw the dice and start him?
“We will go with who gives us the best chance to win,” said Detmer.
Now, on to this week’s picks:
Washington 27, Stanford 24: Huskies capable of outscoring Stanford.
USC 34, Colorado 28: Trojans beat Arizona, Buffs next in sight.
Washington State 34, Utah 28: Mike Leach will be in full bloom.
Arizona State 38, UCLA 24: Bruins are on the brink.
Arizona 38, Oregon State 13: Wildcats tiptoe in the park.
Georgia 37, Auburn 27: Bulldogs may be the best in the land.
Nevada 21, San Jose State 17: Battle of one-win teams.
Notre Dame 34, Miami 31: Might be the game of the week.
Wisconsin 34, Iowa 21: Badgers having outstanding run game.
Michigan State 27, Ohio State 24: Spartans feeling it big time.
Louisville 27, Virginia 24: Can Bronco stop a gazelle?
UNLV 21, BYU 17: Cougar QB situation big question mark.
Last week 9-3; Overall 83-37 (.691)