Three Things I’m Watching For During BYU’s Spring Game

Mar 30, 2023, 9:08 PM | Updated: 11:47 pm

PROVO, Utah – The 2023 BYU football spring game kicks off on Friday. It will likely take on the look of a practice more than a traditional game, but it’s a chance for BYU fans to get an early glimpse at the first Big 12 team.

There’s a lot of intrigue surrounding this BYU football team heading into the Big 12. The media has had a chance to watch the team practice in a handful of sessions, but this will be the largest sample of content to watch from this group.

Here are things I’m watching for heading into the BYU spring game.

#1 Jay Hill’s defense

BYU fans have patiently waited for a defense similar to what Sitake coached when he was at Utah under Kyle Whittingham. The defenses during Sitake’s tenure have been solid but bottomed out in the past two years. Leading to a change as Jay Hill leaves the head coach post at Weber State to lead BYU into the Big 12.

A lot has been made about this group’s aggressive style of play. It has been noticeable throughout spring. Earlier this week, in practice without pads, the defense dominated the offense during a limited media observation window. Headlined by two sacks from Boise State transfer Jackson Cravens and two passes batted down at the line of scrimmage by Tyler Batty and Ammon Hannemann.

Friday won’t reveal much of what they will do, but it’s a complicated scheme, and BYU fans will get a glimpse. They will also glimpse defensive end Tyler Batty, who Hill told KSL Sports “has had a great spring.” Batty, who enters his fourth season at BYU, looks to be the star off the edge for this defense, along with Boise State transfer Isaiah Bagnah.

It will be interesting to see if BYU’s quarterbacks not named Kedon Slovis are made live. If they do, we will get a good sample size of the pressure and the alignments Hill wants to bring to this BYU defense.

Ultimately, this will be another evaluation opportunity for him to see how players respond to a bigger stage than they’ve typically experienced this month in spring practice at the IPF.

#2 Backup quarterbacks

Heading into Friday’s game/scrimmage/practice, I’d give the early nod to Cade Fennegan as the primary backup quarterback to Kedon Slovis. But JUCO transfer Jake Retzlaff is making a case for that job to rage into the summer and fall camp.

Fennegan, who dealt with various injuries last year in spring and then in the season, which caused him to miss the New Mexico Bowl, has taken significant steps forward in his progress. A former Boise State transfer, Fennegan looks like the quarterback that had people buzzing in 2021 when he was the scout team signal-caller. His decision-making has gotten much faster, and his arm strength is better than expected.

Retzlaff, the nation’s number one JUCO quarterback in the 2023 class, had a slow start to spring due to having his tonsils removed. However, he’s making up ground after Kalani Sitake said he had his best spring practice last Saturday in what was supposed to be the IPF.

The former Riverside City College product has a unique throwing motion that will surprise BYU fans when they watch him for the first time. But he’s a good athlete who likes to stretch the field with his arm.

After Fennegan and Retzlaff is freshman Ryder Burton from Springville High. The 2023 season is all about Burton getting comfortable within Roderick’s offense, but as we saw last year with the New Mexico Bowl, you might have to dip into your fourth string. So you always want someone ready. We haven’t seen much of Burton in media windows since the first week of spring, but his arm talent is impressive when he lets it fly.

#3 Kicking game

BYU’s kicking situation has been anything but pretty during spring practice. At the end of practices, BYU has the kickers line up to attempt field goals from around 40 to 47 yards. It has been an adventure in each of the practices that the media has watched.

The most reliable kicker that the media has watched is Wasatch High preferred walk-on Matthias Dunn. Dunn wasn’t on the day one spring practice roster but was added after walk-on tryouts.

Others competing at kicker are Boise State transfer Will Ferrin and returning letterman Justen Smith. Cash Peterman, who didn’t appear in a game, entered the Transfer Portal midway through spring practice.

BYU special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga is confident someone will emerge as the reliable kicker for the fall. But this would be a position that BYU might need to find another kicker or two in the portal or via tryouts.

We will see what type of work they get in front of fans on Friday afternoon at LES.

BYU Football Spring Game

Date: Friday, March 31st

Kickoff: 3 p.m. (MT)


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Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Three Things I’m Watching For During BYU’s Spring Game