Jacob Conover attempts a pass against Utah State on Oct. 1 in Logan. (Dallin Wilks)

Cougar quarterback carousel raises questions ahead of Boise State matchup

BYU football’s three-way quarterback derby between Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney and Jacob Conover ate up most of the preseason headlines during fall camp. While Hall was ultimately named the starter prior to the season opener, no one expected to see each of the three passers start a contest for the Cougars within the season’s first six games.

Such could be the case this Saturday when No. 10 BYU faces rival Boise State at home, with an injury-riddled Cougar quarterback corps possibly thrusting the freshman Conover into the first collegiate start of his young career.

Hall was removed in the fourth quarter against Arizona State on Sept. 18 and has since remained sidelined with rib and shoulder injuries. Romney subsequently followed and sparked BYU’s offensive attack to new heights by throwing for 495 yards, five touchdowns and completing a whopping 80% of his passes over three quarters against South Florida and Utah State. A late hit before halftime last Friday in Logan ended Romney’s night early with concussion symptoms, and now each quarterback’s health status remains unclear headed into Saturday’s matchup.

“All the positions go through the same protocol, which is practice. If you can practice, then we’ll gauge what situation we’re going to be in come game day,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I’ve already said this, but we’re going to protect our players.”

Conover relieved Romney for the second half against Utah State, maintaining BYU’s lead by completing five of nine passes for 45 yards and managing two scoring drives. While some may shrug off the modest stat line, the fact remains that Conover came to BYU as one of the most highly-touted recruits in program history, having thrown 102 touchdown passes and won three consecutive state titles at Chandler High in Arizona.

“He’s got a great arm, a lot of confidence and a lot of swagger,” said offensive coordinator Roderick of Conover at June’s media day. “He has that infectious enthusiasm and confidence in himself that bleeds into others. He’s a freshman who already plays like a veteran.”

Conover was ranked as the nation’s fifth-best pocket passer in the 2019 class by ESPN, a list which included Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier at No. 13. Conover rejected offers from the likes of Alabama, Ole Miss and Arizona State to commit to the Cougars, citing a “lifelong dream” to play in Provo. Following a mission in Paraguay, Conover joined the program, just days before the start of fall classes in 2020, to pilot BYU’s scout team offense to great success.

“If we had our scout team versus our first-team defense in a real game, we would have put up a better fight than some of the teams that we played last year,” Conover said at media day.

Sitake expressed that the coaches have “a lot of confidence” in Conover, but a definite decision on Saturday’s starter has yet to be made public, if at all.

“It’s been nice having quarterbacks that can play and then having guys in there who aren’t always about trying to be the starter,”Sitake told ESPN. “Everybody understands their role, the competition, and supports each other.”

Hall has practiced each week since his injury but did not dress against USF and Utah State, with coaches electing to be as conservative in his recovery as possible. Concussion protocol should keep Romney inactive for a week at the very least, making him quite unlikely to start or dress against Boise. The question remains whether Hall will be at a sufficient health level to play or if the Cougars will prefer to roll the dice with Conover, a choice that could be made just before kickoff.

“I have faith in any one of those quarterbacks,” tight end Isaac Rex said. “Whichever one’s healthy, I know they’re gonna play great and we’ve got their backs. We’ll be ready to help them.”

Whoever gets the nod under center for the Cougars may not be tasked with much passing, as Boise State’s 108th-ranked run defense should merit a heavy load of carries for running backs Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa. Additionally, stalwart center James Empey is set to return to anchor the offensive line, paving the way for BYU’s offensive weapons averaging 29.6 points per game.

“We’re just a violent offense and we try to pound people,” Rex said. “If we get knocked down, we get right back up. Everyone has a job, and everyone’s job is equally as important.”

Boise State limps into Provo at a meager 2-3, with Bachmeier’s Broncos ranking ninth nationally in first-half scoring with a lethal passing scheme but often falling into traps of inconsistency. BYU has won the past two rivalry matchups, including a 51-17 pounding on the “smurf turf” in Boise last season, but the team knows that such a rival can’t be underestimated.

“I’m excited to play against them, it’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little kid,” linebacker and Idaho native Morgan Pyper said. “I think they’re a lot better than their record shows. They’re going to give their best and we’re going to give our best. It’s always a quality game with quality teams going at it.”

BYU and Boise State will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MDT in Provo. The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC.

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