PROVO — For the second-straight game, BYU’s football team played a game on Friday night without fans packed into 63,700-seat LaVell Edwards Stadium.
From an atmosphere perspective, the matchup with Louisiana Tech of Conference USA was a carbon copy of the Sept. 26 game against Troy. There were a few more cardboard cutouts in the east stands behind the BYU bench, but little else changed.
It was a shame because temperatures were in the low 70s and winds were calm on a picture-perfect fall night in Provo. Occupants of a house just north of the stadium lit a bonfire that could be viewed from the press box.
What about next Saturday, when the Cougars play host to Texas-San Antonio in an afternoon game?
“A lot of that a will have to do with the (COVID-19 testing) numbers in Utah County. That’s why I say it is day to day. We have scenarios set up — nobody in the stands, some people in the stands, more people in the stands.” — BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe
Expect that to be announced early next week, perhaps as soon as Monday, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said Friday morning in a roundtable discussion via Zoom with reporters.
Holmoe said the discussions with state and Utah County health officials “are ongoing” and he was hopeful the number of fans BYU planned to get into the stadium for the first two games — 6,000 — is possible this time.
“A lot of that a will have to do with the (COVID-19 testing) numbers in Utah County,” Holmoe said. “That’s why I say it is day to day. We have scenarios set up — nobody in the stands, some people in the stands, more people in the stands.”
Holmoe urged fans eager to watch the No. 22 Cougars in person this season to be patient and not get too emotional about the matter. Of course, wearing face coverings and social distancing also remains important.
“I want this thing full,” he said. “Are we going to get LaVell Edwards Stadium full this year? I would not anticipate that. But anything above zero is good and anything above 6,000 is good. But we will do it on a game-by-game basis.”
When the cities of Provo and Orem were moved into moderate risk (orange) status a few weeks ago, officials said that was for a two-week chunk of time. If the designation is moved to yellow (low risk) status, it would only apply to one game — the UTSA game next Saturday afternoon — because the following weekend the Cougars are scheduled to play at Houston (Oct. 16).
Also Friday morning, BYU learned it definitely won’t be going back to Hawaii for another shot at the SoFi Hawaii Bowl this winter. ESPN events announced it will cancel two of its 17 postseason college football bowl games this year — the Hawaii Bowl and the Bahamas Bowl — due to the pandemic and travel restrictions to those islands.
There are now 39 bowl games still scheduled for the end of the season. Earlier this year, the RedBox Bowl was canceled.
On the field, more BYU players were available to play than last week, when several sat out due to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. BYU coach Kalani Sitake said in his pregame radio show on the BYU Sports Radio Network that the Cougars “have a better handle” on pandemic issues than a few weeks ago.
However, starting center James Empey missed the game and was on the sidelines with a protective boot on his right foot. Former tight end and Utah State transfer Joe Tukuafu got the start in Empey’s place as the junior’s 28-game start streak ended.
Tukuafu was one of the pregame flag bearers, along with walk-on receiver Hobbs Nyberg and special teams aces Ryan Rehkow and Caleb Christensen. The Cougars won the coin toss for the third time this season and deferred to the second half.