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Another game sans fans forces BYU players to ‘bring their own juice’ against explosive Louisiana Tech

Cougars are riding high, dancing hard after two easy wins, but Louisiana Tech is also undefeated and rolls into empty LaVell Edwards Stadium looking for a big upset of No. 22 BYU

SHARE Another game sans fans forces BYU players to ‘bring their own juice’ against explosive Louisiana Tech

BYU coach Kalani Sitake celebrates with defensive back Troy Warner during their game against Navy on Sept. 7, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. The Cougars have been animated during their first two blowout victories of the season. There could be more theatrics Friday night if things go BYU’s way against Louisiana Tech in Provo.

Tommy Gilligan, Associated Press

PROVO — National college football analyst Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated called the sideline dancing, celebrating and carrying-on “achingly BYU.”

But as far as the No. 22-ranked and undefeated Cougars are concerned, if they continue to put the hurt on opponents in hauntingly empty stadiums void of screaming, raucous fans, the antics will continue. 

“I know the players take pride in trying to bring their own juice from the sidelines,” said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “There is not much dancing going on when you are not winning, so hopefully the dancing continues.”

BYU 2020 schedule

BYU’s 2020 football schedule

  • BYU 55, Navy 3
  • Sept. 19 at Army (Postponed)
  • BYU 48, Troy 7
  • Oct. 2 vs. Louisiana Tech, 7 p.m., ESPN2
  • Oct. 10 vs. UTSA, 1:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Oct. 16 at Houston, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
  • Oct. 24 vs. Texas State, Time and TV TBA
  • Oct. 31 vs. Western Kentucky, Time and TV TBA
  • Nov. 7, at Boise State, Time and TV TBA
  • Nov. 21 vs. North Alabama, Time and TV TBA

All times MDT

It is all about pumping energy into the team, head coach Kalani Sitake said Monday, promising more dancing Friday night when the Cougars host also-undefeated Louisiana Tech (2-0) at LaVell Edwards Stadium, which for the second straight game will not be populated by fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By now, the Cougars are accustomed to games without fans because their opener, a 55-3 thrashing of Navy, was played at empty Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. With its home-crowd advantage gone, BYU has found other ways to buoy itself up and rattle, maybe even infuriate, its visitors.

Last Saturday, even the assistant equipment manager, Billy Nixon, got into the act, along with executive director of recruiting and player personnel Jasen Ah You and seldom-used players such as Wes Wright, a walk-on from Snow College, in BYU’s 48-7 rout of Troy.

ESPN was there to catch it all, and some of the, um, “dance moves” went viral for an audience snoozing through another blowout. Friday’s game will be televised by ESPN2, and Sitake is promising more of the same.

“Hey, we are going to turn up the notch on dancing even more now, just because everybody is giving it so much attention,” he said, only half-joking. “I just want our guys to enjoy the moment, have fun at the game. And that goes for the coaches, too.”

Of course, as Tuiaki noted, the histrionics could fall flat if the Cougars fall behind, which is why coaches have said all week a fast start is critical in taking the wind out of Louisiana Tech’s sails.

The Bulldogs have certainly displayed the capability of putting points on the board, having averaged 48.5 in two games. Stopping people is another matter. They gave up 38 points to Houston Baptist in Ruston, Louisiana, last week in a 28-point romp.

“They have their identity, their culture, everything is in place,” Sitake said of La Tech, which was once coached by former BYU head coach Gary Crowton. “We are looking forward to the matchup against a really experienced team. They have a lot of returners. They had a lot of success last year, won 10 games, beat Miami … in a bowl game. So we know we are getting a quality opponent coming into our house.”

Freshman tight end Isaac Rex, who got away with some celebratory dancing and hand-slapping of an official in the end zone last week after catching his first career touchdown pass, said the Cougars have installed some new plays for this week.

Will they have new dance moves? 

Rex is only saying that he won’t reenact the “Cabbage Patch” — which was apparently taught to the team by Sitake, who later said, “I thought that would be fun to teach them about some old-school moves that we did back when I was younger.”

Rex said the players’ spirits are high because they are grateful to be playing football right now.

“Hey, we are going to turn up the notch on dancing even more now, just because everybody is giving it so much attention. I just want our guys to enjoy the moment, have fun at the game. And that goes for the coaches, too.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake

“We are going to bring our own juice, whether there are fans or not,” he said. “We are going to keep dancing, keep having fun, keep showing the world that BYU is a fun, energetic, but also winning, program.”

Zach Wilson, who became the first BYU quarterback since Max Hall in 2008 to post back-to-back games with passer ratings above 200 last week with a 223.3 against Troy after a 206.0 against Navy, said once the games begin he “doesn’t even notice” the fans aren’t there.

“But you are dialed in on what is going on and you are focused on the defensive front and maybe what pressure could be coming on the next play,” he said.

Assistant head coach Ed Lamb said he didn’t notice any drop-off in the amount of celebrating big plays just because no fans were in attendance. Meanwhile, passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick has stressed the importance of moving on quickly after celebrations, and told his players about how former NBA coach Phil Jackson hated parades after his team won championships because he knew they would have to do it all over again to be happy.

“The biggest thing is just proving it again each week,” Roderick said.

Then the Cougars can worry about dancing again.