Which coach for No. 19 BYU is getting the most out of his room?
Just scatter-shooting, here’s a ranking of the top three:
1. Fesi Sitake, wide receivers.
2. Jernaro Gilford, cornerbacks.
3. Aaron Roderick, quarterbacks.
Oh, there are arguments that could be made up and down the line, across the hallway. Experts would want to bring in film, break down plays, draw stuff up on a chalkboard and debate football acumen, skill, schemes, grades, successes and failures. One could make a case for the tight ends through Isaac Rex coming back from injury and Dallin Holker’s defection.
But just going by the eye test, the prize goes to former Weber State offensive coordinator and Southern Utah running back Fesi Sitake for the job he’s doing with a deep and talented receiving corps. He is also the pass-game coordinator. When he was hired by his cousin, head coach Kalani Sitake, many wondered if it was a hire of convenience, a little nepotism.
Nope. Set that nonsense aside. Fesi is the real deal. He is an outstanding recruiter and teacher.
Fesi, the “wide receiver whisperer.”
Consider: He’s basically been without his No. 1 and No. 2 returning receivers, Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney, from a 10-win team a year ago. Both have size and speed, not to mention experience and impressive statistics. Both were proven deep threats down the middle and up the sidelines.
He had Nacua for the first game at South Florida and a brief comeback attempt against Wyoming. Basically, the Washington transfer has missed four of the five games. Romney made his first appearance of the season against Utah State on Thursday night and caught four passes for 51 yards on seven targets. Afterward, he confessed he was out of breath and in need of cardio game endurance.
Meanwhile, Sitake introduced the world to freshman Chase Roberts, freshman Kody Epps, veteran but inexperienced in game play Brayden Cosper and sophomore Keanu Hill. These guys represent the third, fourth, fifth and sixth receivers in his rotation.
In short, these other receivers not named Nacua and Romney have been outstanding.
Call them a kind of Delta Force.
They come, they attack, they keep producing, they make huge catches and score touchdowns.
If you break down the route running and the downfield blocking, this group makes it an art form.
It’s like Fesi Sitake somehow cloned his top producers.
Go deep? No problem.
Be shifty and shake loose for big plays? Easy peasy.
Pull off a nifty back-shoulder reception along the sideline? Routine.
Make a tight toe-tapping touchdown along the sideline in the end zone? Done.
Read zone, man, cover two, cover six, bracket coverage? No problem.
To tell the truth, it is quite amazing.
This is like fielding a whole room full of Austin Collies and Cody Hoffmans.
Consider the receiving statistics through five games.
Epps, a shifty, sharp-cutting athlete who used to catch passes from Alabama’s Bryce Young at Mater Dei High in Los Angeles, leads all receivers with 21 catches and has three touchdowns in the last two games, all of them in the spectacular play file.
Hill, whose father and uncle have Texas and NFL blood, is a 6-foot-4 mismatch problem and leads the team in yards receiving with 329 and in touchdowns with four. He is also leading the team in average yards per catch at 20.6 and yards per game at 65.8.
Roberts, a redshirt freshman who sat out a year ago due to an injury but came as a reputable star out of American Fork High, has 223 yards receiving on 15 catches for a 15-yard average per catch with one touchdown. Roberts did not play against Utah State; neither did Nacua.
Cosper, who has an injury-filled career at BYU, came to Provo more highly ranked as a recruit than Dax Milne, now in the NFL. He is BYU’s best route runner and has the most experience with offensive coordinator Roderick’s offense. He has 15 catches for 192 yards, an average of 12.8 yards per catch, and 38.4 per game with one touchdown.
The above guys are so-called “reserves” behind Nacua and Romney, who rank No. 9 and No. 8 in receiving heading in to the Notre Dame game in Las Vegas.
Against Utah State, Romney made his first appearance of the season after suffering a lacerated kidney during fall practice. He told BYUtv on Friday that he was in the hospital for eight days and the injury kept him from playing in BYU’s first four games of the season.
In his first game back, Romney caught a nice 34-yard pass, showing off both his speed and height in overtowering a defender. In previous seasons, Romney has been one of the nation’s leaders in yards per catch and now he is back in the stable.
It goes without saying that a key to all this is QB1 Jaren Hall. His offseason preparation and experience are evident. He’s smooth, composed, sees the field and utilizes the best part of his offensive line — pass protection — to get Fesi Sitake’s guys the ball.
It looks polished and lethal.