clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

No. 12 BYU looks to get healthy, welcomes fans back to LaVell Edwards Stadium vs. struggling Texas State

Cougars are 5-0 and rising in the national polls, but they are dealing with a high number of injuries and illnesses midway through what has turned into a special season in the midst of a pandemic

BYU players celebrate with fans following the team’s 43-26 win over Houston at TDECU Stadium in Houston on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. From left, that includes defensive back Tavita Gagnier (27), defensive lineman Tyler Batty (92), linebacker Jackson Kaufusi (38) and defensive back Chris Wilcox (32).
BYU photo

Tired of the “white noise stuff they play in the stadium,” BYU defensive tackle Zac Dawe can’t wait to hear the roar of the LaVell Edwards Stadium crowd and revel in the glory of the Cougars’ undefeated season.

The Pleasant Grove product will get his wish Saturday, after BYU announced that approximately 6,000 spectators will be allowed to attend the 8:15 p.m. game against Texas State. The Bobcats are 1-5 overall, 1-2 in Sun Belt conference play.

The 5-0 Cougars, who moved up to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 poll released Sunday, defeated Troy, Louisiana Tech and UTSA without fans in the seats in their first three home games.

Some 10,000 fans, about 25% of capacity to prevent the spread of COVID-19, were at Houston’s TDECU Stadium on Friday to witness BYU’s 43-26 win over UH. Many of the attendees cheered for the Cougars who were decked out in royal blue pants and white jersey tops, rather than the home team.

“It was awesome to see people there from all over represent BYU,” Dawe said. “We can feel their energy on the field. Even though the stadium wasn’t at max capacity, the stadium was loud and that is a huge (credit) to the BYU fans for showing up and giving it their best effort, just like we did tonight.”

According to a BYU news release, individuals who bought tickets for the home opener vs. Troy will have their tickets honored Saturday. The announcement noted that BYU “will consider” increasing the number of spectators allowed in future games against Western Kentucky (Oct. 31), North Alabama (Nov. 21) and San Diego State (Dec. 12) “based on the new state COVID-19 Transmission Index Metric” and input from state and county public health officials.

Speaking of health concerns, they have become a factor for BYU this season, although the Cougars’ performance on the field has been impressive, save a slight hiccup against UTSA on Oct. 2 and that dreadful second quarter against Houston that left them trailing at halftime for the first time this season.

BYU continues to be plagued by illness and injury, even as it has risen in the national polls and stayed in the conversation for a potential New Year’s Six bowl berth. Even the computer-generated rankings like the Cougars, who are No. 6 in the Sagarin Ratings this week, although their strength of schedule ranks 51st.

In addition to the stars who have been lost for the season due to injury (tight end Matt Bushman, linebacker Chaz Ah You), BYU was without massive nose tackle Khyiris Tonga (strep throat), cornerback D’Angelo Mandell (illness), backup quarterback Jaren Hall (hip), defensive tackle Atunaisa Mahe (undisclosed) and senior offensive lineman Tristen Hoge (pneumonia) against the red Cougars.

Star receiver Gunner Romney (hamstring), starting center James Empey (ankle) and starting linebacker Kavika Fonua (lower leg) left the game with injuries and didn’t return. Freshman cornerback Micah Harper was disqualified for targeting in the second half and will have to sit out the first half Saturday against the Bobcats, per NCAA rules.

Head coach Kalani Sitake doesn’t discuss injuries unless they are season-ending, but has generally been willing to say whether a player in question has returned to practice. He will address the media at noon Monday.

But if there is a good week for the Cougars to rely on and develop their depth this season, this is probably it.

Texas State will be playing in its fifth-straight road game, and is coming off a 30-20 loss to South Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday.

The Bobcats were tied 20-20 with the Jaguars after Seth Keller booted a 41-yard field goal with 10 minutes, 30 seconds remaining, but allowed 10 unanswered points after that. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Brady McBride was 28 for 40 for 260 yards and a touchdown.

Sitake said the Cougars worked on their depth all offseason for situations like these, and promised a focused, still-hungry squad will be ready for Texas State, which was added late to the schedule. This is the weekend BYU would have been playing at Northern Illinois if the MAC hadn’t canceled its season in August, only to reinstate it later.

“We feel really good about our strength and conditioning program,” Sitake said after BYU outscored Houston 22-0 in the fourth quarter. “We feel good about our players’ fitness. We know in the fourth quarter we are going to be stronger than most teams. So it did pay off. That was in all areas, in all three phases we felt like we were stronger towards the end.”

Receiver Dax Milne, who should get some national offensive player of the week consideration after catching nine passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns, said having fans in the stadium, albeit a fraction of the 63,700-seat capacity at LaVell Edwards Stadium, will keep the Cougars focused against a team they’ve never faced before.

“I attribute a lot (of BYU’s energy vs. Houston) to the fans,” Milne said. “It helps us dig deeper and helps us compete and when you hear a bunch of people who have the same love for BYU football that you do, it creates an exciting atmosphere and adds to our play for sure.”

BYU slipped a bit in several national statistical categories, but Milne jumped to 10th in receiving yards per game (110.0) and 17th in receptions per game (6.6). Romney, who had just one reception for 3 yards, before departing, dropped to 22nd in receiving yards per game (91.2) and 14th in yards per reception (21.7).

“It was tough losing Gunner,” Milne said. “But yeah, I think we all found ways to step up for him. I was just glad me and Zach (Wilson) were on the same page and the line was giving me and Zach enough time to allow us to make plays. It was fun, man.”

So is rising in the national rankings — something BYU should be able to do the next two weeks until the showdown at Boise State on Nov. 6. The Broncos begin their season on Saturday at home against Utah State.