If any team in the College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday night can afford to not worry about giving up 49 points and 588 yards of offense again this week, it is the No. 15 BYU Cougars.

Cougars on the air

Idaho State (1-7)

at BYU (7-2)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT

At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo


Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM

That’s because BYU takes a major step down in competition Saturday, playing host to Idaho State of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) at LaVell Edwards Stadium (1:30 p.m. MDT, BYUtv).

The Bengals (1-7) obviously don’t have the kind of athletes, or a quarterback like Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong, who can make the Cougars’ defense look as inept as the Cavaliers did for a 20-minute stretch in the first half last Saturday.

But that doesn’t mean BYU coaches aren’t taking a good, long look at their schemes and personnel combinations, because they know tougher foes lie ahead — such as the Pac-12’s USC on Nov. 27 at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Tyler Allgeier is on a run with single-season rushing record within reach
BYU Cougars No. 15 in first College Football Playoff rankings of 2021

“We just gotta stay the course,” defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said Tuesday night, when asked what was learned from that second quarter when Virginia scored 35 points and racked up 367 yards on only 18 plays.

“The expectation is high for us. Players expect a lot and expect to come out and execute and battle, and for the offense to do their thing and us to do our thing and for all of us to contribute on special teams. Really, we just plan to stay the course and keep competing and keep battling,” Tuiaki continued.

“It sounds crazy when you give up 49 points to say there were three quarters of good defense, but the statistics show that we were a very good defense for three quarters and one of the most horrendous defensive performances I have been around in the second quarter.” — BYU safeties coach Ed Lamb

And keep hoping that some injured defensive players get back soon. The Cougars can probably do without them this week, and they are idle next week before traveling to Georgia Southern on Nov. 20, but breakdowns beyond that will cost them their No. 15 ranking and very, very slim hopes of getting invited to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

“We are still banged up,” Tuiaki acknowledged. “This late into the year with not having a bye yet, guys get dinged up and you get them back when you can get them back. We got a lot of guys who have stepped up and are doing a good job and playing hard and sacrificing a lot for us to win these games.

“We will just continue on with who we got and the guys who are practicing, and when guys get back we will get them going,” he continued.

The most notable defensive absentees against the Hoos were hybrid linebacker Chaz Ah You, strong safeties George Udo and Ammon Hannemann and defensive tackle Lorenzo Fauatea, who has been out for more than a month now. 

Jaren Hall is hitting his stride, making his mark in BYU football history on and off the field

Cornerback Keenan Ellis, hospitalized after a collision in the opener vs. Arizona, won’t return this season, the Deseret News reported last week. Also out are linebacker Keenan Pili (for the season), defensive end Blake Mangelson and defensive backs Caleb Christensen and Micah Harper.

Coach Kalani Sitake said Monday that Harper, who started as a true freshman at cornerback in 2020, but sustained an ACL injury in spring camp last March, could theoretically begin playing now that there are only four games remaining and still call this his redshirt year. But that might not be what’s best for the young man from Chandler, Arizona.

“I think you put him in harm’s way if you (bring him back) too early,” Sitake said. “We will be talking with the sports medicine department. If you ask Micah, he wants to play right now. But I think we wait it out a little bit and see how it goes, get some expert advice on it.”

Sitake said Harper “is a special player for us” with a bright future that could extend beyond Provo.

“Coach (Jernaro) Gilford has done an amazing job with that cornerbacks group,” Sitake said.

Safeties coach Ed Lamb said on his “Coordinators’ Corner” program Monday that the strong safety position has been hit especially hard. 

Ah You, Hannemann and Udo “are our top three strong safeties,” Lamb said. “Over the course of the season, Chaz has played the most snaps at strong safety, even though he has been a versatile guy for us. … So without those three guys, we are really digging deep. It has been a real challenge to find (replacements).”

Lamb said the deeper coaches go down the depth chart, the less schemes and fewer plays they can call.

When it comes to BYU’s juniors, who will stay and who will go?

“So some real challenges there,” he said.

After reviewing the game film, Lamb said that if it weren’t for the second quarter, the defensive effort against the high-flying Cavs could have been called one of the better performances of the season, given the level of competition.

“It sounds crazy when you give up 49 points to say there were three quarters of good defense, but the statistics show that we were a very good defense for three quarters and one of the most horrendous defensive performances I have been around in the second quarter,” he said.