Can bowl-bound BYU and Cal transfer RB Chris Brooks feast on fading Stanford?
Brooks returned from a hamstring injury to rush for 102 yards in BYU’s 52-26 win over Utah Tech on Senior Day in Provo
After rushing for 102 yards on just 12 carries in BYU’s 52-26 win over Utah Tech on Saturday afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Cougars running back Chris Brooks will have even more on his plate this week, and it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving dinner.
As a graduate-transfer from Cal, Brooks has the task of convincing the 6-5 and now bowl-eligible Cougars that 3-8 Stanford will be a tough test this Saturday in the regular-season finale at Stanford Stadium (9 p.m. MST, Fox Sports 1).
“Very, very (excited),” Brooks said about the prospects of facing Cal’s biggest rival. “It’s back to the Bay.”
“He is experienced, physical, and knows what he is doing. He is a difference-maker for us. And when we get him opportunities he makes the most of it. It has been fun. It has been a blessing to play alongside him all year.” — BYU QB Jaren Hall on RB Chris Brooks
Fullback Houston Heimuli is also extra fired-up for the matchup, considering he played for the Cardinal from 2017-2021 before becoming a graduate-transfer at BYU. Heimuli has appeared in all 11 games on special teams, but has yet to log a carry or a reception.
Brooks returned to action against Utah Tech after missing the East Carolina and Boise State games with a hamstring injury. He leads the Cougars in rushing, having picked up 561 yards on 88 carries. Brooks’ 6.38 yards-per-carry average would be 17th in the country if he had enough carries to qualify.
“It felt great,” Brooks said of Saturday’s performance in which he got one carry for 1 yard in the first half and 11 carries for 101 yards in the second half.
“I always had faith and belief (that he would play again in 2022),” Brooks said. “I actually wanted to play (against) Boise. But it was just a matter of time and just being smart.”
Brooks, who was known as Chris Brown for most of his time at Cal before he changed his last name to honor his mother, Raquel, was 2-2 against Stanford while playing in Berkeley. Last year, he had 13 carries for 131 yards in Cal’s 41-11 victory at Stanford Stadium.
Cal edged Stanford 27-20 on Saturday in Berkeley in the 125th edition of the Big Game, overcoming a 17-6 deficit in the third quarter with three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a 37-yard scoop and score by Jackson Sirmon.
The Cardinal are merely playing out their schedule now, while the Cougars know they will be going bowling in December. But that doesn’t mean Stanford is not a dangerous and talented team, Heimuli and Brooks will be telling their teammates this week.
For BYU, it is a chance to even its record with the Pac-12, after the Cougars fell 41-20 to now-No. 10 Oregon (9-2) back on Sept. 17. Quarterback Jaren Hall, who threw for a career-high 456 yards and five touchdowns against UT, said that BYU recovering from four straight losses in October to get bowl eligible shows the resiliency and character of the program.
“You know, (we are) playing our hearts out for coach Kalani (Sitake), and everything he has built here. When you don’t have a perfect season, the season you expect, it really comes down to how you finish the season,” Hall said. “We can’t control what has happened to this point. We lost control of that. So now it is: what can we control? And that is the Stanford game next week, and that is the bowl game that follows.”
Hall, Brooks and star receiver Puka Nacua all said Saturday that, regardless of whether they turn pro (in the cases of Hall and Nacua) or return to BYU in 2023, they will play in the bowl game and not joining the recent trend of NFL-bound players bypassing bowl games.
“It just comes back to our character, willingness to strain and finish regardless of what we thought we deserved to begin with, or what we wanted to see happen in the end,” Hall said. “Now, you just have to do what you can, have the right perspective about things, because it will say a lot more about us, how we finished, than anything else.
“So just respecting the game, respecting each other and Kalani and all he has done for us. Just approaching every game like it is the biggest one of our lives,” Hall continued.
Against Utah Tech, Boise State hero Hinckley Ropati got the start and picked up 43 yards on 16 carries. Lopini Katoa fumbled on BYU’s second possession, and was pulled. Brooks took over in the second half and ran like a man possessed, refusing to go down and bowling over would-be tacklers.
Brooks said he got a little emotional doing the senior walk, although he’s only been in Provo for 10 months.
“I am not usually an emotional guy, but when it comes to this football stuff and it comes to not knowing when that last down is going to be, I would say yeah,” he said, acknowledging that Senior Day meant a lot to him. “… It really does teach you to never take any of these games for granted. Because when you get to that senior walk, and you are walking that field, everything just flashes before your eyes. I am just grateful.”
Hall, who said he still is a couple weeks away from deciding whether to turn pro or not, said Brooks brings a lot to the team when he’s healthy.
“He is experienced, physical, and knows what he is doing,” Hall said. “He is a difference-maker for us. And when we get him opportunities he makes the most of it. It has been fun. It has been a blessing to play alongside him all year.
“It was a bummer to miss him for a couple weeks, with his injury. But he’s back, better than ever, as everyone saw tonight.”
Cougars on the air
BYU (6-5) at Stanford (3-8)
Saturday, 9 p.m. MST
Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM