BYU’s bye week unexpectedly turned into multiple weeks following a COVID-19 outbreak.
Since a 55-3 rout of Navy on Labor Day, the 18th-ranked Cougars (1-0) have postponed a visit to Army due to the virus, looked into living arrangements for players who may have been exposed, practiced in small groups, socially distanced in the weight room and finalized contingency plans, just in case it surfaces again.
Next assignment: Carry momentum from a well-orchestrated win that seems ages ago into their home opener against Troy on Saturday night. LaVell Edwards Stadium will be quiet, too, with no fans allowed due to updated restrictions in Provo, Utah.
“We’re excited to be getting back out on the field — with the whole team again,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said.
The Trojans (1-0) are a formidable foe hailing from the Sun Belt Conference, which posted three wins over Power Five teams on Sept. 12. The conference's big moment in the sun included No. 19 Louisiana beating Iowa State 31-14, while Arkansas State knocked off Kansas State 35-31 and Coastal Carolina won at Kansas, 38-23.
“Really well-coached teams and prepared and ready to go,” Sitake said of the Sun Belt’s reputation. “I’ve been impressed with them.”
The Trojans are 2-22 all-time against nationally ranked (FBS) opponents since moving to that level in 2001. They knocked off No. 22 LSU in 2017 and No. 17 Missouri in 2004. In addition, they almost stunned No. 2 Clemson in 2016.
“Our mantra this year is ‘Trojan Tough,’” said Troy coach Chip Lindsey, whose team beat Middle Tennessee 47-14 last weekend. “We’re going to find out Saturday night how tough we are and where we are on that road. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Sitake said earlier this week the Cougars were still going through tests, but that everyone remains in play for Saturday. They've devised backup plans, including who takes over for Sitake should he contract the virus.
“We talked about our depth being such a huge strength for us -- didn’t really think you’d have to test it with COVID. But that’s part of the injuries now,” Sitake said. “You have to have in the back of your mind a plan in case someone is out."
Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson said he's part of the COVID-19 “exempt” group because he caught it earlier in the summer and within the past 90 days. He explained his symptoms were almost “like a cold.”
He and his teammates are trying to pick up where they last left off three weeks ago when they had 580 total yards against the Midshipmen.
“We still had our groups to go and throw with,” Wilson said. “So I still got exactly what I get done in practice except the live reps of going against the defense. Once we get that in this week, I think the guys are going to be ready to go.”
No fans will be allowed into LaVell Edwards Stadium, which has a capacity of 63,470. Originally, around 6,000 spectators were to be admitted. But that changed after the state moved the city of Provo from a low to moderate risk COVID-19 designation. No fans will be permitted next week into the Louisiana Tech game, either.
The Cougars are 74-22 at home since 2005.
BYU enters the game a two-touchdown favorite over Troy. It’s a margin that caught Trojans receiver Khalil McClain by surprise.
“They’re going to beat us by 14?” McClain said. “They’ve got to come show us that they can beat us.”
Troy offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh returns to Provo after serving as BYU’s offensive line coach in 2018.
“He’s a person you can’t forget about,” Sitake said. “He’s a special young man and I’m really happy for him.”
On game day, the pleasantries will be temporarily suspended.
“After that, we’ll always cheer for him,” Sitake said.
WALK THIS WAY
The Trojans have a pair of former walk-ons starting on defense: linebacker Carlton Martial and safety Craig Slocum.
Martial, the conference’s preseason defensive player of the year, had one tackle for a loss last weekend. Slocum turned in an interception.
HEADS OR TAILS
In 10 of 13 games under Lindsey, the Trojans have received the opening kick. They’ve scored seven times, including four TDs and three field goals. Last weekend, they went on a 12-play, 73-yard drive that culminated with Gunnar Watson throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to McClain.
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