Arizona week is here for BYU football.

Kalani Sitake shifted to “protective” hitting now that preparation for the opener against Arizona is in full swing following Saturday’s practice session in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Oh, there have been some collisions and hits in camp, but there are fewer and fewer takedowns. Nobody is supposed to tackle lead backs Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa, and the QBs? Well, there’s a strict no-tackle policy.

It has to be that way these days, even with three promising candidates to replace Zach Wilson.

The offense started slow, caught fire and both the defense and offense had ebbs and flows the rest of Saturday’s scrimmage. 

Sitake said potential big plays by the offense have been blown dead where some plays could have gained more yardage if live play were extended.

In Saturday’s scrimmage, Sitake got his first look at a full-speed Washington transfer receiver Puka Nacua and he loved what he saw. Nacua has been used sparingly in camp so far to bring him back slowly as he rehabs from foot surgery.

He also loved Baylor Romney, Neil Pau’u and tight end Dallin Holker. “I wish every player could serve a mission like Dallin and come back and play like he has,” Sitake said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the line, BYU’s defense took charge early on Saturday.

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“Obviously we don’t want our first experience with tackling to be in the Arizona game,” said Sitake, who will mix up the physicality in practices and scrimmages. “But we have done some of that and I’m happy where we are at.”

Linebacker coach Kevin Clune said tackling is not a worry with his unit, which is expected to be one of the strengths of the team.

“We didn’t miss one tackle in last week’s scrimmage,” he said, praising his group and calling them the most mature players he’s ever been around in 28 years.

“I think those guys are playing at a real high level mentally and that’s really carrying over every day in practice,” said Clune.

“I am really fired up with that position group and how they’re doing knowing how the fronts work. We are right on point where we want to be at this stage of camp.”

Clune said Ben Bywater, injured last season, is pushing for time. “He’s really playing smart.  He is playing a number of different positions and has handled all that mental load well. He’s doing good things fast and he’s strong. He’s a guy that’s gonna show up that maybe you didn’t see last year. Morgan Piper has done a great job playing multiple positions. The next group is Josh Wilson, Drew Jensen, and I might be forgetting someone but it is a very good group.”

Clune said coming out of scrimmage a week ago he felt BYU linebackers were ahead of schedule and ready to take the next step.

“Today’s scrimmage was about understanding the mental side of coming on and off the field, understanding situational football. All those things were a major step forward from last week and I’m very pleased with where we are at and can’t wait to get to that first game.”

Sitake said BYU has yet to scout and break down the first opponent, Arizona, who they play in Las Vegas Sept. 4. He expects play sheets on both sides of the ball will be created this coming week as he narrows reps to potential starters, chisels out a depth chart and a traveling team roster and scout team to practice against.

Clune said he inherited a great group of linebackers as Isaiah Kaufusi, nose guard Khyris Tonga and others moved on. 

“I have a blast walking into a room of 12 guys that I can count on. They may not be in the same place exactly, but you start with leaders like Keenan Pili, Payton Wilgar and Max Tooley, Bywater and Drew Jensen, and Jackson Kaufusi and I love this crew.”

Clune, who has worked as a defensive coordinator for 10 years, said he has been impressed with BYU’s defensive line working in front of his linebackers. “You may call them the ‘no-name defensive line’ and you may not know whoever is in there, but they take care of business. Whoever is in there, they do their job and make it easier for our linebackers.”

Sitake said he’s kind of wary about how things have progressed so well leading up to Arizona week and he and his staff are working hard to find mistakes and practice ugly so coaches can clamp down on improving.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Sitake.

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“One thing I feel a lot of comfort with is our coaching staff and the type of players we have in this program. It makes my job so much easier as the head coach.”

Sitake said as a head coach when things are going good you kind of “make your own trouble” because you have to battle and create, find ways to make things ugly. That goes for playing tag instead of tackling and making sure that execution is happening at the level needed for game time.

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“As much as I like where we’re at, there are still a lot of mistakes and that’s a good sign for us to correct them. They are correctable mistakes and we can definitely fix them with more instruction from the coaches and discipline.”

It all sounds like fall camp jargon, just as one would expect.

Arizona week can’t come soon enough for Sitake.

Players have to feel the same.

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