When the NCAA announced last June that the first Tuesday in November will be a day off for college athletes so they can vote and participate in Election Day activities, it seemed like a great idea. Few, if any, supporters of college athletics argued against it.
But for the BYU football team, which doesn’t meet or practice on Sundays for religious reasons, the ruling brings some added challenges this week.
The 7-0 Cougars, who rose to a No. 9 ranking in both major polls on Sunday, were already facing a short week of practice because their showdown with No. 21 Boise State (2-0) is on Friday at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Now they can’t do anything on Tuesday, leaving just two full days of practice (Monday and Wednesday) for arguably the program’s biggest game in decades.
Thursday will be reserved for traveling and a walk-through — a short practice without pads in which players and coaches walk through various parts of the game plan.
“We will have to do a lot of things in a short amount of time,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said Saturday night after the Cougars rolled past the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers 41-10 at LaVell Edwards Stadium. A week after crushing Utah State 42-13 in its opener, BSU drubbed Air Force 49-30 in Colorado Springs to stay undefeated.
Sitake said BYU applied for a waiver to practice on Tuesday because of its no-practice-on-Sunday policy and the short week, but it was denied by the NCAA. Boise State, which doesn’t have any limitations on what it can do on Sundays, reportedly also applied for a waiver, but was denied.
“So we will just have to deal with it,” Sitake said.
Friday’s 7:45 p.m MST game to be televised by Fox Sports 1 will have serious national implications because both teams are eyeing a potential New Year’s Six bowl berth, and one loss would would likely crush those dreams.
Spectators will not be allowed due to fears of spreading COVID-19, so the Cougars won’t have to worry about a loud and boisterous Broncos crowd like during their five previous games on BSU’s infamous blue turf.
BYU is 0-5 against Boise State in Idaho, but three of those losses were by one point each and another was by five points when the Cougars were inside the 5-yard line in the final seconds only to see then-freshman quarterback Zach Wilson get sacked.
“Yeah, really not reflecting on the past at all,” Wilson said Saturday night after throwing for 224 yards and three touchdowns against WKU when asked if he’s motivated by that near-miss.
“We got a new team. They got a new team. Two years later. Again, just a great opportunity for us,” Wilson continued. “That’s a great football team over at Boise and they do well at home as well. This is a big week for us, preparation-wise. Everybody has got to be dialed in. We got to get on the film. We got to take it seriously in practice, because this is a good football team we are going to face. We gotta give them our best shot.”
Wilson, who originally committed to Boise State before flipping to BYU, did not play in last year’s 28-25 upset of then-No. 14 and undefeated BSU in Provo because he was out with a fractured thumb. Baylor Romney, now Wilson’s backup, threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start.
Wilson said he is “not too worried” about the short week and limited practice time because film study is just as important and that won’t be curtailed.
“We are an experienced team,” he said. “Guys are going to be ready. No matter how many days of practice we get, we are going to heal up, take our rehab seriously, make sure everyone is healthy. … We can show that we can play on Friday even with a Tuesday (practice) missing. We just have to be ready.”
Running back Tyler Allgeier, who had 16 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Hilltoppers and another 29-yard TD run called back by a penalty, seconded Wilson’s thoughts.
“We have waited a long time for this one. They are a very consistent team,” he said. “We have never won over there on the good ol’ blue turf field. It should be exciting.”
BYU will be the highest ranked opponent to ever play at Boise. By Sunday afternoon, the Cougars were a slight favorite, by a point or two, after Boise opened as the slight favorite. The stakes are enormous, the prep time isn’t.
Sitake, who is 1-3 against Boise State, said Monday will be “a really heavy day for us” and Wednesday won’t be much lighter.
“We are going into Game 8, Boise is going into Game 3,” he said. “So there is going to be a balance of how we prep our guys and our legs and the physical part of practices. We are going to have to be really smart about how we approach it. … The goal is to get to Friday and mentally and physically be ready.”
Neither team is fully healthy.
Broncos starting quarterback Hank Bachmeier missed the Air Force game for undisclosed reasons, but USC graduate transfer Jack Sears was outstanding, accounting for four touchdowns in the 19-point romp in which Boise State ran off only 49 plays.
The team’s best running back, George Holani, left the game in the first half with an apparent knee injury and didn’t return. Likewise for defensive end Demitri Washington.
BYU starting strong safety Zayne Anderson limped off the field Saturday after covering on a kickoff return and didn’t return. Sitake didn’t have an update on the senior’s condition after the game.
Receiver Gunner Romney, who missed the 52-14 win over Texas State, started Saturday and caught five passes for 59 yards before sitting out the second half. Sitake said “Gunner is fine” and the junior was held out of the remainder of the game for cautionary reasons.
Defensive starters Chris Wilcox, Keenan Pili and Kavika Fonua and valuable backup rush end Tyler Batty didn’t play and could possibly return this week, Sitake said in his pregame radio interview on the BYU Radio Network.