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Cougars mum on starting QB situation heading into game with ‘dangerous opponent’

No. 10 BYU hosts 2-3 Boise State on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Who will start at quarterback for Cougars will probably remain a mystery until kickoff

BYU and Boise State resume their college football rivalry on Saturday in Provo.
BYU Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) loads up for a long pass as BYU and Boise State play a college football game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. BYU won 51-17.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake says the No. 10-ranked Cougars are trying to stay “hungry and humble” as they take their 5-0 record and lofty national ranking into Saturday’s rivalry game against Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. and the 12th meeting of these regional rivals will be televised by ABC. BYU is doing its best to shut out the noise that has accompanied its unexpected start, a start that has seen the Cougars lead wire-to-wire in all five games.

Sitake is obviously also trying to keep quiet regarding his starting quarterback situation for the showdown after backup Baylor Romney left BYU’s eventual 34-20 win over Utah State on Friday with a concussion and freshman Jacob Conover, the third-stringer, played the entire second half.

In his Monday press briefing before the Cougars practiced, Sitake provided few details on the status of Romney or season-opening starter Jaren Hall, which is not a surprise.

“As far as right now is concerned, they are all still in contention to play this Saturday,” he said of Hall, Romney and Conover, who were listed in that order on the depth chart BYU released Monday. “So until we practice and get a look at them, no one has been taken off (the depth chart). So right now, as of today, everyone is still available to play.”

Sitake generally only discusses injuries if they are season-ending, and he said there were none that fit that description in the Utah State game.

“We will see how practice goes, and (pick) whoever gives us the best chance to win. That position, quarterback, (is like) every other position out there where guys are still trying to come back from injury and things like that. So O line, quarterback, running back, it doesn’t matter,” Sitake said. “All the positions go through the same protocol — which is practice, and if you can practice we will gauge what situation we are going to be in come game day.”

Because Romney is almost certainly in concussion protocol — and players rarely come back from concussions in less than a week to 10 days — the redshirt sophomore from El Paso, Texas, most likely won’t be ready.

The question is whether Hall — who suffered bruised ribs in the final minutes of the 27-17 win over Arizona State — can play after Sitake said he was “close” to being able to play against the Aggies.

“I have always said it: We are going to protect our players, and sometimes even from themselves,” Sitake said.

Later Monday, Boise State coach Andy Avalos told reporters who cover BYU on a teleconference that the Broncos, coming off a discouraging 41-31 loss to Nevada, will prepare for all three with the belief that the Cougars’ offense doesn’t really change according to who the signal-caller is.

“They will all operate the offense effectively. We know they are all capable of doing that,” Avalos said. “Some are a little more athletic than the others in terms of the quarterback run game. … Week in and week out, when teams have multiple quarterbacks, that is usually the case, that (there is) one you definitely have to account for in the run game.”

In BYU’s case, that would be Hall, the second-leading rusher (55.3 yards per game) behind star RB Tyler Allgeier (112.8 ypg.).

“You put them all together, and you prepare to face an offense that has ability to be explosive down the field in the pass game, has the ability to move the line of scrimmage,” Avalos said. “And you face an offense that has the ability to have a quarterback (put up a) run number. And so that’s the way we gotta be prepared, so we are squared away for any situations that may pop up.”

Offensive linemen Harris LaChance and James Empey also missed the USU game, and were replaced by Connor Pay (center) and Campbell Barrington (right tackle). Empey and LaChance were both back at the top of the two-deep in their respective positions Monday; Joe Tukuafu and Pay are listed as co-starters at right guard, a position they have mostly rotated through the previous four games.

“Guys are still banged up and guys are trying to come back. We will see how that goes,” Sitake said. “It is hard to predict on Monday going into a Saturday game. But I imagine we are going to get more guys back this week. We are hoping.”

Kicker Jake Oldroyd played for only the second time in five games vs. the Aggies, and is now listed as the sole starting kicker, whereas he shared that distinction with Justen Smith in previous depth charts.

Speaking on the “Coordinators’ Corner” show, special teams coordinator Ed Lamb said Oldroyd will probably be a day-to-day decision most of the season with back issues that come and go.

Defensively, the Cougars got linemen Tyler Batty and Atunaisa Mahe and cornerback Isaiah Herron back last Friday and saw Frodo (that’s really a position on BYU’s depth chart) George Udo play extensively for the first time in nearly a year.

“We like our depth,” Sitake said. “We need to get guys healthy, though. Our depth has been tested quite enough by now. It is time to get guys back. But I am really happy with the guys who stepped in and made plays.”

Sitake and Avalos both said they would like the BYU-Boise State series to continue, even as the now-independent Cougars are scheduled to go into the Big 12 in 2023 and will have to cut back considerably on their nonconference games.

“I really have appreciated the consistency of playing Boise every year,” Sitake said. “And I appreciate their fanbase and their program, just the way they do things. I think it is a first-class organization, from the University to the athletics department to the football team. I respect them a bunch and we are looking forward to this matchup.”

He called the Broncos “a dangerous opponent” that has played a difficult schedule.

“I am glad they stepped up and played us last year,” Sitake said. “It was awesome of them to do that. They didn’t have to, you know (due to the pandemic). I respect them for doing that.”

Although this is his first year as Boise State’s head coach, having replaced Auburn-bound Bryan Harsin, Avalos played for BSU and faced the Cougars when the series began back in the early 2000s.

“This series has been unbelievable for this region,” Avalos said. “It is aways a tough-fought game, a very physical game. I think it is a game that both fanbases look forward to every year. It is an unbelievable regional rivalry game that hopefully as the years go on we can continue the opportunity.”