Can a healthier BYU offense finally get rolling against the SEC’s Arkansas on Saturday?
After barely practicing in the week before the loss to Notre Dame, Cougars’ quarterback Jaren Hall says he hasn’t missed any reps this week and is ready to play against the Razorbacks
If the stars align properly — and that’s a big “if” for anyone familiar with how the 2022 season has gone for this crew — BYU’s top offensive players should be relatively healthy for Saturday’s showdown with Arkansas at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The 4-2 Cougars host the 3-3 Razorbacks at 1:30 p.m. MDT in a battle of previously high-ranked teams that have had mildly disappointing seasons to date, partly because of those dreaded injuries and also because the squads they have lost to have been above average.
“Been back to it. Everybody gets dinged-up. I was dinged-up a couple weeks ago (against Utah State). I have been battling through that. But I feel a lot better this week. I have had more practice reps, and am confident for this Saturday.” — BYU quarterback Jaren Hall
Oregon and Notre Dame beat BYU; Texas A&M, Alabama and Mississippi State beat Arkansas — the latter when the Hogs didn’t have all-everything quarterback KJ Jefferson, out with concussion-like symptoms. Jefferson, all 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds of him, cleared concussion protocol Monday and will be the best QB not named Jaren Hall to play in LES this season, perhaps the best.
Speaking of Hall, who was nursing a sore shoulder and other undisclosed injuries last week against Notre Dame and had arguably the worst performance of his career in the 28-20 loss in Las Vegas, he acknowledged Wednesday that he was so banged-up last week that he barely practiced before the team headed out to Sin City.
“Been back to it,” he confirmed, after completing just nine of 17 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns against the Irish, with one awful interception. “Everybody gets dinged-up. I was dinged-up a couple weeks ago (against Utah State). I have been battling through that. But I feel a lot better this week. I have had more practice reps, and am confident for this Saturday.”
Even though he didn’t practice much before the Notre Dame game, Hall said the “mentality was to play all the way through, and just go day by day.”
That rustiness showed in the first half. In the second half, he played much better, as did BYU’s entire offense after mustering just 67 yards in the first 30 minutes.
Getting off to better starts offensively “is something we have really been focusing on,” Hall said. “Obviously you gotta do it on Saturday. You can practice all the things you want, but until you go do it, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Since putting up 38 on USF in the first half of the season opener, BYU's offense has averaged 9.4 points in the first half over their last 5 games.— CougarStats (@CougarStats) October 13, 2022
They are 94th in the nation in total offense in the first half and 8th in the second half.
“I am sure the word is out — he was banged-up from the Utah State game and didn’t practice really at all last week,” Roderick said. “It definitely wasn’t his best game. He played like a guy who didn’t practice. He still made some great plays that gave us a chance, especially in the second half. But practice reps are important, and fortunately this week he hasn’t missed any reps. I expect him to be ready to play on Saturday.”
Roderick said he had to adjust his play calling “a little bit” against Notre Dame to account for Hall’s status, but it never got to the point where coaches considered going to backup Jacob Conover because Hall was “adamant” about playing.
“And then it was sort of up to us if we were willing to play him without practice reps. I think he has done enough good things for our program that we gave it a shot. And I trusted him to play without practicing, which is rare,” Roderick said. “You don’t do that very often in college football. But (this is) a special case, I think, in how much he’s played and how much he’s meant to our team.”
What about Hall’s other weapons?
Backup receiver Chase Roberts (hip flexor) and co-starting running back Miles Davis (shin) didn’t suit up against Notre Dame, while receiver Gunner Romney left the game late in the third quarter and was taken to a nearby hospital for tests because he had that lacerated kidney that caused him to miss the first four games.
“I am hopeful for Miles. I expect Chase to play. I don’t think either one is a sure thing yet, but I think there is a good chance they will both play. I would say Chase is probably a little ahead of Miles right now,” Roderick said. “Same thing (for Romney). I don’t know for sure. He is still in the same category as Miles right now.”
Roderick said another co-starting RB, Chris Brooks, “has been a little banged-up at times, so we are trying to use him when we can in the right moments. He is working his way through some things.”
However, Roderick said he is “happy with Chris” and believes the Cal transfer “will be an important part of our team the rest of the year.”
Brooks is averaging 6.03 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns. Aside from the Baylor and Oregon games, where he averaged 2.38 and 2.80 yards per carry, he’s been an adequate replacement for Tyler Allgeier.
BYU’s ace in the hole moving forward should be receiver Puka Nacua, whose injury situation after shining in the first half of the opener against South Florida is well-documented. The Washington transfer has just four receptions for 48 yards and is 12th on the team in number of catches.
Is he finally healthy?
“I am pretty good,” he said Wednesday. “Nothing that limited me during the game. Obviously not at 100 (percent). … But nothing where I wasn’t able to perform at my best out there on Saturday. So I felt really good, other than we didn’t come out with the right outcome.”
Nacua said his injury-hampered season “has been a grind,” but isn’t something he isn’t used to. He suffered a fractured foot his freshman season at UW and has been through this before.
“On the bright side, I would definitely say practice has been more fun because I have missed a lot of them,” he said.
Regarding the offense overall, Roderick said he would just like to get off to better starts, establish a better rhythm, eliminate the three-and-outs and develop more consistency now that it is almost back to full strength.
“We are not playing as well as I would like to, but we are ahead of where we were last year at this time, by far. I mean we have scored 29 more points this year than we did last year through six games,” he said.
Cougars on the air
at No. 16 BYU (4-2)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM