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Schedule additions, such as reported matchup with Army, boost BYU football as final scrimmage of camp approaches

‘It gives us a lot of motivation’: BYU cornerback Chris Wilcox said adding Navy, and now Army, to the Cougars’ schedule has invigorated the defense because the service academy teams run the option offense with precision and toughness.

SHARE Schedule additions, such as reported matchup with Army, boost BYU football as final scrimmage of camp approaches
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BYU cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford, center, works with Chris Wilcox, left, and Shamon Willis during practice inside BYU’s Indoor Practice Facility on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU

PROVO — BYU defensive back Chris Wilcox will acknowledge it now. 

When the Cougars gathered for preseason training camp on Aug. 4, he looked at a couple of his teammates and asked, “Why are we doing this?”

Two days later, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe announced a Labor Day (Sept. 7) matchup with Navy to replace the Sept. 3 game at Utah that was lost when the Pac-12 postponed its season to spring of 2021.

More scheduling news followed, including a home game on Sept. 26 against Troy. Late Monday, a New York newspaper reportedthat BYU and Army would tangle at West Point, New York, on Sept. 19. Although the schools had not made an official announcement as of midday Tuesday, the Deseret News confirmed the game was on through a BYU source and also reported that the Black Knights would return the game in Provo at a later, yet-to-be-determined date.

“It gives us a lot of motivation, because I know at first, a lot of us were like, ‘man, are we even going to have a game? Are we even going to have a season?’” Wilcox said. “And when we found out we were going to play Navy, it just gave us a lot of energy. It gave us a boost, I would say. Instead of going to practice not knowing what we were practicing for, knowing we were going to play Navy, it just gave us a big boost and we are excited.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake also addressed reporters in a video conference after practice Tuesday morning, but declined to confirm the Army game, which would be the fifth on BYU’s reconstructed schedule.

“I just know that Tom is working hard to get our schedule. Until it is official, there is not really much to report. I think there has been a lot of talk about it, so we will see what happens in the next little bit,” Sitake said. “But I will just let Tom do his part, and I will do mine, which is coach these guys up. We have had a couple good practices so far, yesterday and today, so I am really excited about the scrimmage coming up Thursday.”

Sitake later mentioned that the Cougars’ defense is splitting time between preparing for Navy’s option offense and working on BYU’s basic defensive schemes, which are somewhat different. Perhaps to the Cougars’ advantage, Army’s offensive attack is very similar to Navy’s.

“I just know that Tom (Holmoe) is working hard to get our schedule. Until it is official, there is not really much to report. I think there has been a lot of talk about it, so we will see what happens in the next little bit. I will just let Tom do his part, and I will do mine, which is coach these guys up.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake

“We are going against Navy, and it is a different beast,” Sitake said. “We will be tackling, going live against our (scout team) all the way up until the week of the game. So, we are just trying to balance our defense through the foundation that we have set, and also what we want to do against the option that we see from Navy. That’s basically what we are focusing on.”

More good news on the scheduling front came Tuesday afternoon when North Alabama athletic director Mark Linder confirmed the Lions are still planning to play at BYU on Nov. 21. Although the Big South Conference to which UNA, an FCS program, belongs is moving its conference schedule to the spring of 2021, it is allowing its members to play a four-game nonleague schedule this fall.

The Lions’ first game is Oct. 3 against an FBS opponent that school is not ready to announce yet.

Meanwhile, Holmoe has spent a lot of his time fielding phone calls from teams still interested in playing the Cougars. There’s been enough interest that the AD hasn’t ruled out playing as many as 12 games this season, and really wants to get 5-6 home games even though only about 25% of LaVell Edwards Stadium’s capacity will be utilized.

Interest from non-Power Five programs in playing BYU is high, according to a source familiar with some of the negotiations. That’s probably a good thing, because the only Power Five conference with openings remaining is the ACC, and those are limited to only a handful of schools, such as Florida State and Clemson.

Sitake was asked Tuesday if BYU’s schedule is close to being finalized.

“Obviously, if it was finalized then it would be done,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence (Holmoe) is getting the right people on the phone, and talking to a lot of people, and trying to organize it. He has called me and anytime he has asked me about any opponent, I have just said, ‘Yeah, let’s go — whatever can be the easiest (way) to get them on the schedule.’”

Wilcox, who graduated last April but only played in one game last year due to injury, said it wasn’t a difficult decision to return for his final season of eligibility during a pandemic when player safety is of utmost concern.

“I am just ready to get back on the field,” he said. “I know with everything going on it is very unfortunate. But I am glad we are able to play. There are other schools on the West Coast that have canceled. (BYU) is taking really good care of us as far as all the procedures we have to follow, like taking our temperatures coming in.”

Aside from noting that BYU will scrimmage at the stadium on Thursday and then begin turning its attention full-time to Navy after that, Sitake didn’t have a lot of news to share Tuesday.

The coach did say that no players have sustained season-ending injuries in camp to date; However, junior college transfer Jacques Wilson, a defensive back from West Los Angeles College, suffered a knee injury that required surgery, according to Jake Hatch of the LockedOnCougars podcast.