We as coaches kind of ask ourselves all the time this week, ‘Why wasn’t this guy starting?’ Not that the other guy isn’t good, but this guy does some really good things. We’re going to have to play very well. —BYU linebackes coach Kelly Poppinga
PROVO — Based on its checkered track record against backup quarterbacks over the years, the BYU defense is understandably a little leery of Boise State’s new starting QB.
When the Cougars and Broncos meet Friday (6 p.m., ESPN) at LaVell Edwards Stadium, junior Grant Hedrick will be taking the snaps for Boise State.
Hedrick took over after starter Joe Southwick suffered a broken ankle on Boise State’s first offensive play last week against Nevada. In his team's 34-17 victory over the Wolf Pack, Hedrick completed 18 of 21 passes for 150 yards and an interception and ran eight times for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think he does some things better than their starter did,” said BYU linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga. “We as coaches kind of ask ourselves all the time this week, ‘Why wasn’t this guy starting?’ Not that the other guy isn’t good, but this guy does some really good things. We’re going to have to play very well.”
“Every team has good players,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “The other quarterback came in and had a really successful game. Boise is a good team with a good system.”
Backup quarterbacks have established a reputation for shredding the BYU defense in recent years. Last October, for example, Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz started in place of an injured Sean Mannion and threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-24 win over the Cougars.
“We have more information on (Hedrick) than we did (Vaz),” Poppinga said. “He has a lot of reps this year. There’s not a lot of unknowns. And he’s good. We really didn’t know about the Vaz kid. He came out and tore us up. As far as we knew, he was just a backup quarterback. We respect this guy, and we know Boise State’s scheme over the last 10 years has been phenomenal. They’ve done a great job getting their players in position to score. Nothing’s changed.”
In last week’s 47-46 victory over Houston, redshirt freshman quarterback John O’Korn threw for 363 yards against BYU. O’Korn, who started the season as a backup, became the starter due to an injury.
Going into the Nevada game, Hedrick had completed 16 of 26 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown.
How different will Boise State’s offense be with Hedrick at the controls?
“I think he’ll just run it more, probably,” said BYU defensive coordinator Nick Howell. “He scrambles, but I don’t think there will be any difference. They’ve had their system for a long time, and he fits what they do. I don’t think there will be any change at all, except the fact he’ll probably scramble a little more. The same stuff, I would guess. That’s what he did last week.”
Boise State coach Chris Petersen said going into this game with a backup quarterback will be one of the toughest challenges the signal-caller has faced.
“Grant doesn’t have the experience Joe had. Joe’s played a lot of football for us,” Petersen said. “But Grant’s been around here for a while. It’s not like he’s a freshman or anything like that. He knows what he’s doing. It’s a great opportunity for him to see what he can get done.”
Hedrick has an arsenal of weapons around him, including running back Jay Ajayi. The 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore rushed for a career-high 222 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries against Nevada, including a 71-yard TD.
Last week, Hedrick recorded runs of 50 yards and 25 yards on scramble plays.
“I would compare (Hedrick), skill-wise, a little bit to (former BYU quarterback) Riley Nelson, the way that he runs and makes plays with his legs,” Poppinga said. “He throws the ball better than Riley, I’d say. He’s very instinctive. We’re going to be great about keeping him in the pocket.”
Poppinga expects the Broncos to dig into their deep bag of trick plays Friday.
“A lot of misdirection stuff, a lot of gadgets, a lot of stuff that made Boise State famous,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we stay to our keys, do our assignments, and execute and we’ll be in great shape.”
“They run a lot of gadgets,” said safety Craig Bills. “Thirty yards and in, they run a lot of trick plays and do different formations.”
Poppinga compares Boise State’s offensive look and philosophy to Utah’s.
“They like to use one tight end and one running back and they like to pound the ball,” Poppinga said. “They have a running back that’s really good. They’re up-tempo and they’re going to run the ball and try to get in as many plays as they can, and have some 'trickeration' with it, which will be fun. Hopefully it’s not too fun. Fun for us — not for them.”