- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

PROVO, Utah (AP) - The miraculous finishes of BYU’s first two games has Tanner Mangum being showered with praise just seven quarters into his career. Those highlights, however, have overshadowed the fact that the freshman quarterback still has plenty of room to improve.

The way Mangum led the 19th-ranked Cougars to come-from-behind, last-minute victories against Nebraska and Boise State were nothing short of spectacular. He completed a 42-yard prayer with no time remaining at Nebraska and a 35-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds left against Boise State to take the lead.

Mangum, however, ranks No. 65 in the nation in completion percentage (61.5) and has one fewer interceptions (2) than touchdowns (3). He is far from a finished product.

“We are just starting out tapping into his skill set,” BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae said. “In my opinion, this is Week 2 for the offense. It’s like we’re starting again with a whole different emphasis highlighting the skill sets and things we feel our quarterback does well.”

The attention Mangum has garnered is well deserved. This is a freshman who spent two years away from football on a Mormon mission in Chile. He returned just over three months ago and hadn’t played a football game since 2012. He’s got a strong arm and the moxie not to be overwhelmed by the situation. But he also struggled with intermediate throws last week and 189 of his 309 passing yards came on three throws.

“Just focusing on continuing to master our reads,” BYU quarterbacks coach Jason Beck said. “Continue to master our pre-snap checks and recognitions we want to do on coverage. Just getting the offense.

“We simplified it a little bit, so we’ll just try to grow it week by week by putting in a few more concepts, or a few more formations, motions, whatever it may be.”

Mangum certainly has shown a knack for hitting the big play, but Beck also wants him to take what the defense gives. Mangum threw the Boise State winner on fourth-and-7, but missed a wide open receiver underneath on third down and tried to go deep to Mitch Matthews. Beck wants his quarterback to stay patient at the top of his drop and go through his progressions instead of bailing out early.

“The more reps he gets, the more things will slow down, get comfortable,” Beck said. “And the more he’ll be able to think clearly and execute at a higher level. This last week was up and down. Some really good plays. Some bad plays. Forgot some things.”

BYU travels to No. 10 UCLA on Saturday. Bruins coach Jim Mora compared Mangum to former Texas A&M; quarterback Johnny Manziel in the way he can extend a play, though Manziel looked to run much more. Mora said, at 22, Mangum isn’t your average freshman.

“He makes plays down the field,” Mora said. “Runs around and slings it and they come up with it. He’s a guy that forces you to cover for a long time. You have to keep him in the pocket. When he gets out of the pocket he makes plays down the field. We just have to be really, really disciplined.

“He’s got a gun and he can throw it a long ways and he’s very mobile and he stays alive. … He’s just playing with a high level of confidence.”

Mangum is upbeat and confident in general. That’s why the moments haven’t been too big for him. That’s why teammates have believed in him.

There’s no denying Mangum has a strong foundation, but there’s still work to do. Anae said Taysom Hill, who was lost for the season against Nebraska, had developed over the years to the point where they were ready to “take the roof off.” Receiver Terenn Houk explained that they’re working to build chemistry with Mangum on the fly.

Mangum sent Hill a text message before the Boise State game to say the team was playing for him. Hill responded with advice Mangum won’t forget anytime soon.

“He said ‘Good luck and no matter what happens out there, if it doesn’t go your way, it’s how you respond in those moments that will establish you as a leader,’” Mangum said. “That means a lot because a lot of things go wrong in the game. You make mistakes and things don’t go your way, but you have to keep your head up and keep fighting. This is something I want to remember.

“It’s all about how you respond to those situations and adversity that will make the difference.”

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