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Goal met: No turnovers by BYU offense in first scrimmage

Kalani Sitake used a modified scrimmage Saturday, protecting and holding out some stars while letting younger players get after it

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The BYU Cougars offense plays in the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp on Aug. 13, 2022, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

The BYU Cougars offense plays in the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp on Aug. 13, 2022, at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

BYU Athletics

Kalani Sitake is walking a tight rope the first week of BYU’s football practice.

This was evident at Saturday’s first scrimmage in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Sitake continued to hold out star players such as tight end Dallin Holker, receiver Puka Nacua and others. He said the time will come when proven veterans will need to be tested, pushed and even challenged more with all the benefits of hard tackling, but Saturday wasn’t that time.

What he got was 50 plays of “thud” hitting with no takedowns and about 50 plays when younger, inexperienced players tackled and were tackled.

On one hand, he’s got a lot of veteran players who know the drill and don’t need to digest the boring aspects of what fall camp sometimes puts them through in the first stages. With 19 returning starters, BYU is tied for first in the country in that category.

“I was pleased,” Sitake said. “I liked what I saw.”

One of the newcomers, walk-on receiver Tanner Wall, looked exceptional with his chances Saturday, hauling in a long post-pattern play. Coaches said the native of Virginia has been one of the most improved athletes on the team since returning from church service. 

Sitake said he has fashioned his fall drills the past two weeks to fit the veterans. He’s done more teamwork, 11-on-11, created actual game situations, and installed both the offense and defense faster than normal.

“We’re really moving along,” Sitake told reporters this past week. “The sad part is some of the young guys just have to get it on the run.”

BYU’s opponent for the season opener, USF, is tied for second for the most returning starters in the country. The two teams meet Sept. 3 in Tampa Bay, Florida.

How good will the Cougars be this year?

That remains to be seen. The offense should rock. The defense is trying to be a good complementary mate now that linebackers Payton Wilgar and Keenan Pili are healthy.

Wilgar played sparingly Saturday. Pili stood on the sidelines.

The USA Today coaches preseason rankings came out and gave little credit for all the returning starters, including veteran quarterback Jaren Hall. The Cougars are not ranked.

That could be a motivator in coming weeks, something to prove, the proverbial chip on the shoulder thing.

What we can tell from limited access and interviews is Hall and company are going to move the ball. Hall has protection; he has the weapons; and they are dependable, fast and big. 

Hall, according to the consensus of voices around the program and by eyewitness accounts, has never looked better.

Defensively, I’d project improvement, more speed, depth, a stronger defensive line. The corners will be as fast as the Cougars have had in recent memory. Hopefully, said Sitake, that speed will be converted into good coverage, otherwise they’ll just be making mistakes faster.

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick liked how clean scrimmage turned out — no turnovers.

That is always a primary goal, even with mixed lineups and combinations on the field and execution that need polishing. 

“Overall, it was a good day,” said Roderick. “We took care of the ball. That’s the main thing in a first scrimmage. You know, there’re a lot of mixed match lineups out there. We’re rotating offensive linemen a lot, rotating tight ends and holding some good players out. 

“Anytime you start subbing people in and out like that, there’s a chance that maybe not every play is going to be perfect. The quarterback position is really important in these things to just show that you have commanded the offense and that you know what you’re doing with the ball. I thought we took good care of it. All the guys took care of the ball.”

Both Jacob Conover and Boise State transfer Cade Fennegan saw 20 plays each. Both looked capable.

Roderick said he is working hard at distinguishing formations with different personnel groupings so defenses cannot predict the play based on who is in the game. This is especially true for the tight end position.

“Masen Wake is a better receiver than he’s given credit for. Conversely, Dallin Holker is a much better blocker than people know,” Roderick said.

“We are very pleased with Issac Rex, Dallin and Masen. They can be interchangeable and this helps us become less predictable.”

Roderick also had high praise for freshman tight end Ethan Erickson from Kahuku High School in Hawaii.

“In time, he has a chance to be a very good player for us, maybe even this year,” Roderick said.

First scrimmages.

They’re always a mixed bag of a few impressive plays and holdout-a-ramas.

This was Sitake’s Saturday.