Having a bye week after just five games is somewhat new for Cougars, but they are relishing it anyway
Coach Kalani Sitake said his 4-1 Cougars will take the extra time to heal up, do some self-scouting, and give practice reps to younger guys
Forgive the BYU Cougars if they don’t quite know how to handle a bye week this early in the college football season.
But coach Kalani Sitake’s 4-1 team isn’t about to give it back. That’s especially true because the Cougars face a monumental task a week from Saturday, a Big 12 showdown with 2022 College Football Playoff runner-up TCU at the Horned Frogs’ 50,000-seat venue, Amon G. Carter Stadium.
“Road games, I don’t care too much. The time doesn’t really matter to me, especially on the road. Home games are fun to be under the lights. There is a different feel to that, and it is really enjoyable. … But whenever they want us to take the field and go play, that is what we are going to do.” — BYU OL Connor Pay on playing in the afternoon at TCU on Oct. 14
“You obviously get an extra week (to prepare) for them than they do for you,” BYU linebacker AJ Vongphachanh said Monday. “They have to focus on their opponent this week, so it is definitely a huge advantage to have an extra week to prepare and gameplan, for sure.”
It was announced Monday that the Oct. 14 game in Fort Worth will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MDT and will be televised by ESPN. TCU (1-1, 3-2) plays at Iowa State this Saturday while the Cougars are idle. Because they are 19-1 in their last 20 night games, there were some Cougars hoping to play under the lights in the heart of Texas, but not offensive lineman Connor Pay.
“Road games, I don’t care too much. The time doesn’t really matter to me, especially on the road,” Pay said. “Home games are fun to be under the lights. There is a different feel to that, and it is really enjoyable. … But whenever they want us to take the field and go play, that is what we are going to do.”
Conference play is obviously unfamiliar to the Cougars, who were independent the past 12 seasons, and so is having a bye this early.
In each of the last two years, their bye came after 10 games, which obviously is not optimal. In 2021, their bye came on Nov. 13 after they beat Idaho State 59-14 on Nov. 6. In 2022, their bye came on Nov. 12 after they beat Boise State on Nov. 5 to snap a four-game losing streak.
They were a bit rusty after their last two byes, edging Georgia Southern 34-17 in 2021 and starting slowly before holding off Utah Tech 52-26 last year.
Still, “the bye week is really timely this year,” Pay said, noting how the tradeoff is that they lose a little momentum garnered from last Friday’s 35-27 win over Cincinnati.
“Just anywhere in that middle section of the season is nice, just because now that we are five games in, just normal bumps and bruises, that type of thing (have happened),” Pay said. “You get a chance to heal from those, and maybe some more serious injuries for other guys, and get a chance to get people back with the week off.”
Speaking of which, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and special teams coordinator Kelly Poppinga said on their respective “Coordinators’ Corner” segments Monday that guys who missed the Cincinnati game such as receiver Kody Epps, running back, Aidan Robbins, offensive lineman Weylin Lapuaho and linebacker Ben Bywater could be back for TCU. Another injured player they could use is safety Talan Alfrey, who has been out since fall camp.
“We don’t talk about injuries unless they are season-ending, so that is a good sign (that there are no new ones to report),” Sitake said. “We are still looking at getting guys back. I think there are a good number of players who will come back for the TCU game.
“And then there are some that will probably take a couple more weeks, even after that,” Sitake continued. “But I think for those that have got hurt in the last couple of weeks, there is a good chance that they could all come back by TCU.”
Punter Ryan Rehkow, who joined Sitake, Pay and Vongphanchanh for Monday’s weekly press briefing, said the Cougars “will hit these next few days pretty hard, just kinda get back into the swing of things.”
After four days of practices, the players will get Friday, Saturday and Sunday off to recuperate and gear up for a killer stretch of seven straight games against some of the top teams in the conference.
As he mentioned after the Cincinnati game, Sitake “feels good” about his team right now, which has shown plenty of resilience to get four wins in September.
Cougars on the air
at TCU (3-2)
Oct. 14, 1:30 MDT
Amon G. Carter Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
“We are sitting in a really good spot right now going into the bye week,” Sitake said. “I am really proud of the boys, proud of the team, proud of the coaches, their commitment to each other and our culture, but also committed to just knowing that they gotta battle it out.”
TCU was upset 24-21 by West Virginia Saturday night in Fort Worth, which illustrates just how much parity exists in the league, Sitake said.
“That has kinda been proven in every game,” he said. “When you are looking at the Big 12 Conference, a lot of parity. There are large leads that aren’t safe, and a lot of games coming down to the wire. So that is going to be part of it. You have to be ready for a battle every week.”
Even when your bye comes in early October.