USA TODAY US Edition
Mangum making habit of miracles
Freshman QB’s last-minute strikes save BYU’s season
Tanner Mangum bounced into the Brigham Young locker room after his latest miracle with a smile, a laugh and, upon seeing coach Bronco Mendenhall, an apology. I’m sorry, he said, for making it so close.
The growing legend of Mangum is being written live, for three hours every Saturday, and its most charming aspect is this: He doesn’t know any better than to apologize — with a laugh — on the tail end of another miracle.
The 11th pass of his college career was a game-winning Hail Mary as time expired to shock Nebraska, a moment already memorialized on shirts for sale outside of Lavell Edwards Stadium.
On the third play of his first career start, Mangum rolled far, far to his right, nearly onto the white stripe of the sideline, before tossing a rainbow heave that was lost briefly in the stadium’s bright lights before falling into the arms of wide receiver Mitchell Juergens, who strolled into the end zone for an 84-yard touchdown.
Trailing by a field goal with less than a minute left against Boise State, Mangum opted against the safe play — the 8-plus yards needed to convert a fourth-down try — and went for it all, again finding Juergens for the winning TD.
“It was more surreal,” Mendenhall told USA TODAY Sports. “Is this really happening? Did he just do that? Did we just do that? So many times, you kind of think, man, it would be so cool if we were the team that did that. Now that it’s happening, it’s like, wow, this is happening.”
Two games, two miracles. The 22-year-old freshman’s debut defies logic and explanation, requiring not merely a suspension of disbelief but belief, perhaps, in a higher power. It draws comparisons — to Roy Hobbs, another older-than-average contributor with a similarly auspicious debut — even as it suggests something entirely different: We’ve never seen anything like this before.
“It’s fascinating, it’s refreshing and it’s pure,” Mendenhall said. “No one else has their hands in this, twisting and turning it or trying to stretch it. He’s writing his own chapter.”
His story begins in 2011, when Mangum, a senior-to-be, attended the Elite 11 competition, a gathering of the nation’s top quarterback recruits, held at the time in Malibu, Calif.
He was not a traditional choice for the event: Mangum hailed from Eagle, Idaho, not a common quarterback hotbed, and had missed most of his junior season with an injury.
“No one even remembers he was an Elite 11 MVP,” Mendenhall said. “It was not only because of his size and his arm, but he has this unique mental makeup … that I’ve seen now for two weeks.”
Mangum’s faith, his relationship with the BYU coaching staff and the program’s rich history of quarterback play made him a heavy lean toward the Cougars throughout his recruitment, though the coaches at nearby Boise State made a strong push for his signature — even as they were aware Mangum would take a two-year mission shortly after arriving on campus.
He returned to campus June 3, in shape but not in football shape, and there’s a difference: Mangum needed to work hand in hand with the Cougars strength and conditioning staff to regain strength, even as he seemed destined to spend this fall as the understudy to senior Taysom Hill.
Those plans changed in the first half of BYU’s win against Nebraska.
Hill left the game with a foot injury and then briefly returned, but the program’s hopes of a temporary setback were revealed to be more severe: Hill suffered a year-ending Lisfranc fracture, cutting his season short for the third time in a star-crossed career.
Enter Mangum, and just in time. It’s not just the wins pulled from the jaws of defeat; it’s how the freshman has saved BYU’s season and how, even amid a debut of unparalleled success, the best might be yet to come.
“In moments like that, things happen, you kind of just have to roll with it,” he said. “Things happen that you don’t plan — people go down, plans change. You just have to do your best and just roll with it, go with the flow, and do your best to step in and make the most of it.”
The key to sustained success might be to not change a thing. Mangum isn’t Hill and doesn’t present his predecessor’s dualthreat ability. Nor is he a traditional pocket passer, somewhat due to his lack of experience. Mangum is an improviser drawing up touchdowns on the fly and is thereby the most dangerous quarterback of all — one who can shatter even the best-laid defensive plans.
There is clearly something working at BYU, a program pained by Hill’s departure but simultaneously galvanized by the ascension of his successor. There’s excitement to be found in a miraculous two-week run and in the idea that, even as he kicks off the first chapter with a bang, the full extent of Mangum’s story remains unwritten.
“You’ve got to enjoy moments like that,” Mangum said. “It’s a game. It’s fun to play. When crazy things happen like that, it’s just ... wow. Only in football. College football, every Saturday evening, afternoon, you never know what’s going to happen.”