In a development that few BYU football observers saw coming before the season began, freshman running back LJ Martin has moved into a starting role ahead of Saturday’s showdown at Arkansas.

BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said after Wednesday’s practice in Provo that the El Paso, Texas, native has moved into the RB1 role, replacing UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins.

“Well, he’s practiced a little bit yesterday and today. Had a little setback. I don’t know if he’s going to be ready. It would be great to get him back if we ever do. But not sure yet.” — BYU OC Aaron Roderick on receiver Kody Epps.

“LJ is going to start this game, and Aidan is going to play, too, and so is Deion (Smith),” Roderick said.

Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. MDT at Razorbacks Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the game will be televised on ESPN2.

Asked why Martin will get the start, Roderick acknowledged the way the 18-year-old burst onto the scene in the Cougars’ first two games.

“He is breaking tackles,” Roderick said.

On another personnel note, Roderick said receiver Kody Epps is not a sure thing to play this week for the first time this season, after head coach Kalani Sitake noted in the postgame news conference after the 41-16 win over Southern Utah that the redshirt sophomore is expected to play.

“Well, he’s practiced a little bit yesterday and today. Had a little setback. I don’t know if he’s going to be ready, but he did a little bit today,” Roderick said. “It would be great to get him back if we ever do, but not sure yet.”

Meanwhile, Martin has picked up 119 rushing yards in two games on 22 carries, displaying the promise that made coaches rave about him during preseason training camp.

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Robbins, who started his career at Louisville and transferred to UNLV, where he rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year, is off to a slow start as a Cougar. He has rushed for 29 yards on 10 carries.

Generally, BYU’s rushing attack has not been what fans expected in 2023, but both Roderick and offensive line coach Darrell Funk said Wednesday they will get the situation sorted out. 

Roderick repeated what he said on the Coordinators’ Corner show Monday, that SUU played its safeties within 7 yards of the ball and dared the Cougars to throw it, so they did. 

Kedon Slovis passed for 348 yards in just over three quarters of work.

“Yeah, we will be able to run the ball this year,” Roderick said.

Martin was a four-star prospect out of Canutillo High in Texas and originally committed to Texas Tech, then Stanford. The Cougars swooped in last December and got him to flip after they beat the Cardinal in Palo Alto and coach David Shaw resigned.

Cougars on the air

BYU (2-0)
at Arkansas (2-0)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

“Honestly, the kid does everything correctly,” BYU running backs coach Harvey Unga said, “and for a young kid who came in in the summer time and tried to pick up this offense and learn it all within a short amount of time, that’s remarkable.

“Not a lot of guys who are true freshmen his age come in late and are able to grasp the entire playbook the way he has,” Unga continued. “It is a testament to who he is, and his study habits and all that stuff.”