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BYU ‘in a really good spot’ at 8-2 heading into bye after 10 grueling weeks

After walloping Idaho State 59-14, the Cougars moved up in both polls and hope for more good news Tuesday when the next CFP rankings are released

Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Pepe Tanuvasa (45) hits Idaho State Bengals quarterback Sagan Gronauer (16) as he passes.
Brigham Young Cougars defensive lineman Pepe Tanuvasa (45) hits Idaho State Bengals quarterback Sagan Gronauer (16) as he passes as the BYU Cougars and Idaho State Bengals play at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Having gotten almost exactly what they wanted to get from Saturday’s 59-14 crushing of Idaho State, the BYU Cougars will get a long-awaited, and much-needed, bye this week before resuming their season Nov. 20 at Georgia Southern.

According to the Idaho State Journal, BYU paid Idaho State $500,000 for the late-season visit, which is close to what Utah paid the Bengals’ fellow Big Sky and FCS member Weber State on Sept. 3 before walloping the Wildcats 40-17 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“We knew if we took care of business that we should be OK,” said head coach Kalani Sitake, being diplomatic after ISU coach Rob Phenicie, choking up a bit in his postgame news conference, said BYU “could have come out and put 90 on us very easily.”

Sitake played his starters most of the first half as BYU took a 42-7 lead at the break, then substituted freely in the second half. Quarterback Jaren Hall, running back Tyler Allgeier and receiver Puka Nacua all took the second half off after big first halves.

“You always want to respect your opponent and do the right things and play the right way, and I thought our guys did,” Sitake said. “Grateful for the game and for our (outgoing) guys to finish the right way. I thought it was really good for a bunch of young guys to get good, meaningful reps.”

Sitake also got a bit of a workout. He climbed into the stands and led the band in a rendition of the school fight song after the game.

“It was pretty good, huh?” Sitake said of his maestro performance.

Of course, he was talking about playing band leader for a few minutes, but he easily could have been talking about the Cougars’ first 10 games in which they went 8-2, ascended to No. 15 in the College Football Playoff rankings — a new version will come out Tuesday night — and proved they weren’t one-hit wonders last year when they went 11-1 with Zach Wilson and more than a dozen other contributors who moved on.

Sunday, the pollsters didn’t penalize the Cougars for playing a cupcake opponent in November, a development that bodes well for the release of the much-more-important CFP rankings on Tuesday.

They were moved up from No. 17 to No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 and from No. 20 to No. 15 in the USA Today/Amway Coaches Poll.

Along with where the Cougars will be ranked Tuesday, the big question of the week and throughout the remainder of the season is which guys will move on next year.

Obviously, the three fifth- and sixth-year seniors — Uriah Leiataua, Jared Kapisi and Samson Nacua — are leaving because they are out of eligibility. Sitake said coaches will sit down with the other 11 players honored Saturday and discuss what is best for them.

One of those players, safety Matthew Criddle, said he is definitely leaving when he spoke to reporters after the game and re-lived his first career interception in the second half.

“I just feel like my time has come to an end,” Criddle said.

Sitake said it is “kinda up in the air still” for most of the remaining 10, including starters such as running backs Lopini Katoa and Allgeier, offensive linemen James Empey and Joe Tukuafu and receivers Neil Pau’u and Gunner Romney.

“I thought it was important that if it is their last game that we recognize them and give them a chance to do the Senior Walk at the end and go through the whole festivities and have them (be recognized),” he said. “If some of them come back, then great, we will do it again next year. … I wish we could have done that with Zach last year.”

Wilson announced he was entering the NFL draft a couple weeks after the bowl game, to nobody’s surprise. Allgeier, who ran for a touchdown on BYU’s opening drive to give him 17 TD runs for the season and 30 for his career, is leaning heavily toward leaving, he told the Deseret News during media day last June and again in September after signing an NIL deal with YOKE Gaming.

Pau’u has said he will probably leave, considering he’s been in the program since 2017. The 6-foot-4 receiver sustained an injury while scoring a touchdown in the first half and didn’t return. He wasn’t able to participate in the Senior Walk, and Sitake said more will be known about his condition on Monday.

That’s just another reason why the Cougars can really use a bye this week. They can probably win at Georgia Southern in two weeks without being at full strength, but will need all hands on deck on Nov. 27 when they face USC (4-5) at the Coliseum in Los Angeles in hopes of posting a 10-win regular season.

Georgia Southern plays at Texas State this Saturday, having lost 28-8 to Coastal Carolina last weekend to fall to 2-7.

“I think we are in a really good spot now,” Sitake said. “Ten weeks in a row is not easy, especially when you are playing a lot of teams that we played, and the physical football that we saw.

“Some of those (injured) guys will be able to recover,” he continued. “Not having a game next weekend is going to be good for their recovery. Some guys are getting healthy. We will get some guys back, but there are also some guys that still need work.”

The Cougars got more good news Sunday morning when Cormani McClain, the five-star recruit from Lakeland, Florida, who visited BYU on Saturday with three other friends/recruits from his hometown, announced BYU is in his top five along with Florida, Alabama, Ohio State and Miami.