PROVO — For freshman quarterback Jaren Hall, it was Saturday afternoon 'live' during an 85-play spring scrimmage as Hall and the offense put on quite a show at the former Provo High School football field.
The coaching staff decided to allow the QBs to go 'live' — or allowed to be tackled. Hall, who completed 12 of 14 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns and rushed five times for 59 yards, capitalized — and the offense came alive.
Hall led the offense to four touchdowns on all four of his drives, wowing the 5,500 fans in attendance with a dazzling display of shifty running and sharp passing. And he had plenty of help from the offensive line, running backs and wide receivers.
“It was fun. I loved it. Practice sometimes can give you a false sense of security, especially as a quarterback when they’re not touching you,” Hall said. “But you go 'live' and you can go make plays and it’s more real. It gives you more urgency. It helps you get through reads quicker and it just speeds up the process of everything.”
For those concerned about how the Cougar offense might fare with players like quarterback Zach Wilson and tight end Matt Bushman sidelined recovering from offseason surgeries, they probably are resting easier now after Saturday’s open practice.
What did Hall show offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes?
“The same thing he shows every day in practice — a lot of poise, a lot of confidence and, really, a pretty amazing combination of a guy that can run and throw,” Grimes said. “Not surprised at all because we see it every day in practice.”
Putting points on the board is exactly what Hall wants to see from himself and his teammates.
“You always expect to score, especially with the offense that we have, the great line and the receivers and running backs, just the depth,” Hall said. “That’s always the standard — to score every time we have the ball.”
Of course, the defense played without some starters as well, like defensive linemen Khyiris Tonga, Lorenzo Fauatea and Devin Kaufusi. The defense struggled at times against the offense, especially when Hall was taking snaps.
“When you have a quarterback that can run, that changes your whole defensive mindset — a lot more containment,” said defensive lineman Trajan Pili. “It’s hard but at the same time it’s fun because it’s teaching us how to play with quarterbacks like him. He’s athletic, he’s fast, he’s quick and he can throw the ball, too. It’s good for us as a defense to play him.”
Hall had a long touchdown run during the scrimmage that was nullified due to a holding call.
“It’s what I did in high school a lot. I love turning the field back,” Hall said of his long run. “It was fun to let the legs go and start running.”
Why did the coaches decide to let the quarterbacks get tackled?
“You find out more about a guy when there’s a chance that someone might actually hit him,” Grimes said. “I think a guy can show you what his athletic ability is.”
“We had a situation where a guy thought he had a sack and Jaren was able to spin out of it. A lot of our offense, we want to run the quarterback a little bit and give Jaren and Joe (Critchlow) and Baylor (Romney) opportunities to run the ball and know what it feels like to get hit,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “Some of these guys have been on missions and in green jerseys for a year or so and no one’s ever hit them. It’s nice for them to get hit and get some scrapes and bruises and go ice themselves up so they know what to expect for the season.”
Critchlow completed 8 of 17 passes for 127 yards with one interception and one touchdown while Romney completed 8 of 11 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.
Running backs Tyler Allgeier and Sione Finau turned in impressive performances. Allgeier ran seven times for 53 yards and two touchdowns while Finau had three carries for 20 yards and two receptions for 34 yards. Fullback/tight end Darius McFarland caught four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought Tyler Allgeier did a great job. He and Sione Finau were the guys that really stood out today,” Sitake said. “They got a lot of reps. Sione made guys miss and Tyler made guys miss in space. They extended drives and made some big gains. Morgan Pyper did some good things, too.”
Meanwhile, wide receiver Gunner Romney hauled in six passes for 109 yards and one touchdown. Neil Pau’u had four catches for 89 yards while Dax Milne had two receptions for 38 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown.
“I love him. We’ve got to give him the ball more,” Sitake said of Romney. “It’s just a scrimmage but we have a lot of skill position players that can do things. He’s one of them. Gunner Romney, Talon Shumway and Neil Pau’u. Those guys can do some great things. You saw Dax Milne, too. We have a lot of guys that can catch the ball, run routes and extend drives and make big plays. Gunner’s one of them.”
Grimes liked what he saw from the receivers, too.8 comments on this story
“Overall, good. I’m really pleased with the progress of the receivers. All of the guys, and obviously we’re missing some catchers, and I include the tight ends in that as well, we’re missing some of our most proven guys that can catch the ball,” he said. “All of the guys you’re seeing out there have made significant progress. (Wide receivers coach) Fesi (Sitake) is doing a good job with them and they’re working as hard as anybody on our offense.”
Defensively, linebackers AJ Lolohea and Hirkley Latu both had whistle sacks while defensive back Mitchell Price recorded an interception.
“For the most part, I’m really pleased with the way the team performed,” Sitake said. “We have three more practices. We’re going to use those to get going on our season and get a jump-start to the offseason and player-run practices later in the summer.”