The only thing that matters right now is winning this next game. —Kalani Sitake
LAS VEGAS — BYU is returning to Sam Boyd Stadium, a place where it has played in six bowl games.
But this year’s version of the Cougars won’t be in a postseason game in December. They are guaranteed to finish with a losing record for the first time in 13 years.
BYU has three regular-season contests remaining, starting with Friday’s matchup (8:30 p.m., MST, ESPN2) against UNLV.
At this point, the biggest question surrounding the Cougars is — who will start at quarterback?
Coach Kalani Sitake announced last Monday that he was looking for a new starting quarterback after junior Tanner Mangum suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 20-13 loss at Fresno State.
The candidates? Sophomore Beau Hoge and freshmen Joe Critchlow and Kody Wilstead.
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said that if Hoge, who was hobbled in the FSU game, is ready, he’ll play against the Rebels.
“If he’s feeling good enough to go,” Detmer said, “he’ll probably be the guy.”
Hoge has completed 19 of 39 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns this season. He started against Wisconsin and Utah State but was injured in the first half against the Aggies.
In the few games he’s played in this season, Hoge has struggled at times and he’s looked impressive at times.
“I don’t think it’s a fair assessment on Beau all the way. He’s been in and out with the injuries and last week he was in and out,” Detmer said. “We want to try to be fair on evaluation at the same time. Everybody’s kind of up in the air right now as far as what we feel like we can bring to the team.”
Critchlow has completed 6 of 11 passes for 59 yards at the end of games when the outcome was already determined against Boise State, Mississippi State and San Jose State.
Wide receiver Micah Simon said Mangum’s situation is unfortunate but he knows the team needs to move on.
“It sucks to have a guy work so hard to come back from the first injury and have to go out again. I’m praying for him, I feel for him,” Simon said. “But it’s still the next man up mentality. Beau and Joe will carry us through and we’ll lean on them, they’ll lean on us and we’ll be fine.”
But with all the talk and interest at quarterback, the bottom line for Sitake is pretty clear.
“The only thing that matters right now,” he said, “is winning this next game.”
Detmer echoed Sitake’s comments.
“We’ve got to play the guy we feel like going to win the game for us, too. That’s first and foremost. We’re evaluating that situation and see where it falls come Friday night.”
Still, there needs to be a balance between winning games and developing for the future.
“Number one, we’ve got to win. We’re playing to win. It’s not, ‘OK, the seniors are done and we’ll play all the young guys.’ That’s not the way it works here. It’s not our mentality as coaches,” Detmer said. “So we’re going to try to win the game but if there’s an opportunity for a guy to be in the game, we want to see him go in and execute and play and see what they bring to the table. But that’s on the back burner in your mind. But if you get to that point, you want to see some guys go play that you have some question marks on.”
No matter who’s playing quarterback, the Cougars need to be more efficient and avoid dropped passes, penalties and other miscues that have plagued them all season.
“Offensively, we just didn’t have enough production. Not enough points on the board, not enough big plays compared to the week before,” Sitake said about the Fresno State loss. “I said if I were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging. I didn’t feel like we took enough swings.”
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Cougars on the air
BYU (2-8) at UNLV (4-5)
Friday, 8:30 p.m. MDT Sam Boyd Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM