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Leading receiver’s leg injury is serious, making him ‘very doubtful’ to play in game after bye week

Neil Pau’u sustained a lower leg injury while scoring a touchdown in BYU’s 59-14 win over Idaho State, head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday

BYU Cougars wide receiver Neil Pau’u (2) celebrates a touchdown against Virginia.
BYU wide receiver Neil Pau’u celebrates a touchdown against Virginia at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. BYU won 66-49. Pau’u may miss several weeks with a leg injury.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Not a lot has gone wrong for BYU’s football program the last couple of weeks, but on Monday Cougar fans received a couple of pieces of not-so-great news.

One, it appears that the lower-leg injury suffered by star receiver Neil Pau’u as he crossed the goal line for a touchdown in the 59-14 win over Idaho State last Saturday is quite serious.

In his weekly press briefing Monday, held even though the 8-2 Cougars are idle this week, head coach Kalani Sitake said Pau’u is “very doubtful” to play against Georgia Southern on Nov. 20.

Sitake couldn’t confirm that the injury is season-ending, but earlier Monday offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said on BYUtv’s “Coordinators’ Corner” program that the injury is troublesome.

“I don’t have the final news on that yet, but it doesn’t look good,” Roderick said.

Pau’u, who was honored before the game on senior day although he still has another season of eligibility remaining, if he wants it, leads the Cougars in receptions with 46 and is second to Puka Nacua (671) in receiving yards with 526. The COVID-19 junior’s six touchdown receptions also lead the team.

Two, it was announced Monday that the game at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia, will not be televised nationally. Instead, it will kick off at 2 p.m. MST and be available via streaming on ESPN+ for a subscription fee.

What will the Cougars, No. 15 in the College Football Playoff rankings, do until that game against the option-attack Eagles?

Sitake said Monday they will get in “three really good, full practices” on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then take Friday and Saturday off. He said how hard the players go in practice, and how physical they get, will depend on who they are.

“It all depends on if you are a guy that played tons of reps in the 10 weeks we just went through, especially in terms of the physical part of it,” he said. “I think it is important for us to take advantage of the time to heal. But also we can’t get rusty, either.”

BYU’s tackling hasn’t been good since before the Baylor loss, partly because so many younger players have been forced into action by injuries to veterans, so Sitake said fundamentals such as tackling and ball security will be stressed this week.

“You can guess who is going to be tackling and who won’t be tackling,” he said. “But everybody is going to be running and everybody is going to be lifting. Everyone is going to get stronger mentally, physically and spiritually throughout this week.”

Because Georgia Southern, which plays at Texas State this weekend, runs an option offense like that of Navy and Army, Sitake said they will use some time preparing for that.

As for only giving the players a couple days off, he said that is plenty and he doesn’t want to send the message that this is the time for a vacation from football.

“Two days is enough (down time),” he said. “Then get your butt back here to Provo and let’s get back to work. So I think we have given them that time to do that. … Some are going to go home, but the majority are going to stay here and study and get better and maybe get some extra lifts in.”

Tuesday night, the Cougars will learn if their ranking will change during the CFP rankings show on ESPN, but Sitake said nobody in the program is concerning themselves much with that.

“We are going to work hard, stay humble, stay hungry,” he said. “There is always room for improvement.”

Reflecting back on the win over ISU, an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), Sitake said just because the Cougars will join the Big 12 in 2023 doesn’t mean they will stop playing FCS opponents.

“I think it is good for college football,” he said, noting how the FCS programs seem to enjoy the exposure and experience and need the payday (ISU reportedly received $500,000 for playing the game) to keep their programs afloat and aid others in their respective athletic departments.

Also on the “Coordinators’ Corner” program, quarterback Jaren Hall and receiver Puka Nacua were named offensive players of the week by Roderick.

Safety Matthew Criddle and rush end Pepe Tanuvasa were named defensive players of the week by defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki after both players recorded the first interceptions of their careers.

Special teams players of the week were Terence Fall, Jacob Boren, Drew Jensen, Hobbs Nyberg and, of course, Keanu Hill, after the latter blocked a punt and fell on it in the end zone for a touchdown.