PROVO — ESPN college football analyst Rece Davis sent shockwaves through Cougar Nation Saturday morning when he said on the College GameDay program that BYU could be missing as many as 12 or 13 players in its home opener against the Troy Trojans on Saturday night.
He might have been overstating things a bit.
Sure, BYU was shorthanded. Cougar fans knew that going in because tight end Matt Bushman, running backs Hinckley Ropati and Jackson McChesney and defensive back Chaz Ah You have sustained season-ending injuries the past six weeks.
Also, the father of offensive lineman Tristen Hoge said on Instagram and Twitter that the Cougars’ starting right guard contracted pneumonia earlier this week, the day after coming off a 14-day quarantine for COVID-19. Hoge didn’t suit up Saturday and will likely be out next Friday when BYU hosts Louisiana Tech.
The Deseret News reported Friday that offensive lineman Kieffer Longson and linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi might miss the game due to either testing positive for COVID-19 or being a part of the contact tracing that quarterback Zach Wilson said was “hampering” the Cougars in their efforts to get all players cleared to play.
Kaufusi’s wife, Bree, said on social media Saturday that Isaiah tested positive for coronavirus on Monday, but subsequently had negative tests Wednesday and Friday. Kaufusi started at his rover linebacker position Saturday.
Longson did not play.
“Obviously, it is not the entire group,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake told the BYU sports radio network before the game. “We have always bragged about our depth this year, and now we gotta test it.”
At 7:30 p.m. MDT, BYU players took the field for warmups wearing all-royal blue jerseys. But this time, there was no greeting from the ROC — BYU’s rowdy student section. Of course, fans were not allowed due to the cities of Orem and Provo being moved to orange level COVID-19 status (moderate risk) by the state of Utah.
The Cougars were used to the silence, having played at Navy 19 days ago in front of an empty Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Gone were the usual pregame ceremonies, such as the Lighting of the Y.
BYU’s eight captains had the letter ‘C’ on jersey tops, similar to what on sees out of hockey captains.
There were cardboard cutouts of former BYU quarterbacks Steve Young and Jim McMahon in the stands, and banners featuring classic BYU games in school history have been hung in the portals where fans normally congregate for concessions.
Before the game, Sitake said the running backs group should be getting some help soon. Redshirt freshman RB Sione Finau is “very close” to returning, Sitake said.
“He practiced this week and looked really good.”
Another freshman, Micah Harper, got his first start at cornerback, joining senior Chris Wilcox at that spot. Troy Warner, who played corner at Navy, was back at safety with fellow senior Zayne Anderson. Sophomore George Udo got the start at “cinco” in place of the injured Ah You.
Senior Chandon Herring slid over to right guard in Hoge’s absence, and sophomore Blake Freeland started at right tackle — the spot Herring occupied against Navy.
Pregame flag bearers were Anderson (USA flag), Brayden Cosper (state of Utah flag), Talmage Gunther (team flag) and Austin Riggs (team flag).