BYU football: What will the Cougars’ running back situation look like in 2021?
With Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa back after the duo formed an effective combination last year, BYU should be fine at the running back position if both stay healthy in 2021
While BYU football fans will likely remember the 2020 season for a long, long time, star running back Tyler Allgeier says he will do his best to forget it.
“Gotta stay humble,” Allgeier said in March as the Cougars wrapped up 2021 spring camp. “Doesn’t matter if I had good numbers last year, or not. New year, new goals.”
To say Allgeier, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound bowling ball with an extraordinary burst for a big man, had good numbers last year would be an understatement. They were great, considering he often played in the shadow of star quarterback Zach Wilson, taken with the No. 2 overall pick by the New York Jets in the NFL draft last month.
“There is always something to work on. I am just perfecting a lot of things until next season. That’s my goal right now.” — BYU running back Tyler Allgeier
“He had an outstanding season, no question,” BYU football coach Kalani Sitake said after the draft. “We will rely on him a lot this year, too, with some of our other big producers (Wilson and receiver Dax Milne) moving on to the NFL.”
Allgeier, a walk-on from Fontana, California, who earned a scholarship after a solid redshirt freshman season that saw him play linebacker, running back and kick returner, said his biggest job in 2021 will be to make the new QB — Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney, Jacob Conover or Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters — get comfortable as quickly as possible.
Allgeier led the Cougars in rushing last year with 1,130 yards on 150 attempts. He averaged 7.5 yards per attempt and also scored 13 touchdowns. He remains unimpressed with himself.
“There is always something to work on,” he said. “I am just perfecting a lot of things until next season. That’s my goal right now.”
BYU’s running back situation is top-heavy right now: Allgeier and junior Lopini Katoa have a lot of experience and carries under their belt. The other 10 RBs on the roster, not so much.
Katoa is the most multidimensional back in the running backs room, having rushed 84 times for 451 yards and five touchdowns last year. The American Fork product caught 23 passes for 293 yards and three TDs as well.
“Pini brings a lot to our offense,” Sitake said. “He is a really good weapon for us.”
Sitake said throughout spring camp that BYU would add a few players via the transfer portal if they could find the right fits, and running back feels like a position of need, given BYU’s history of injuries at the position.
But that was before BYU added two receivers from Pac-12 schools, Washington’s Puka Nacua and Utah’s Samson Nacua, the former prep All-American’s brother.
It means guys in the running backs room such as Miles Davis, Jackson McChesney, Sione Finau and Hinckley Ropati will need to step up, and stay healthy.
Davis moved from receiver to running back last year, with some success. He had 15 carries for 100 yards and two TDs, and showed some speed and tackle-breaking ability in his new role.
Ropati sustained a season-ending knee injury in preseason camp, while McChesney went down with a Lisfranc foot injury in the 55-3 win over Navy and never returned. Finau, the phenom from Kearns who was leading BYU in rushing in 2019 before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in practice, never really got it going in 2020 and had just 12 carries for 54 yards.
Sitake said the backup RBs got a lot of work in spring camp, and “looked ready to contribute,” most notably Ropati, a transfer from Cerritos (California) College who wasn’t going to join the team until 2021, but was added before 2020 when the junior college season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Ropati ran for 647 yards and 10 touchdowns his freshman season at Cerritos, and has a running style similar to that of Allgeier.
“He’s going to be really good,” Allgeier said. “The plan is for the running backs to be a (big) part of the offense. That’s the plan. (Ropati) will help us a lot.”
Allgeier said other RBs to watch include Beau Robinson, a freshman from Mountain Crest High, and converted quarterback Mason Fakahua of Cedar City. Others in second-year RBs coach Harvey Unga’s room include Wyoming transfer Theo Dawson, former defensive back Javelle Brown and returned missionary Faka’osi Nasilai, known as Oliver Nasilai when he was recruited out of Hot Springs, Arkansas, as a linebacker before a church mission.
“The leaders will sort themselves out,” Sitake said. “There are a lot of guys that are returning that are being great leaders for us. It has been nice to see Tyler Allgeier and Pini Katoa be leaders for us. Pini was voted a captain for us last year.”
As for Allgeier, he is the second-highest-rated running back, among those returning in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus. His 1,130 rushing yards last year were the ninth-most in a single season in BYU history.
“Everyone is saying last year was a fluke year, yada, yada, yada,” he said. “But I think we all have our minds right in saying, ‘no, this wasn’t a fluke year.’ We are ready for this schedule. I think it should be fun.”