STATESBORO, Ga. (AP) — Coach Kalani Sitake made sure No. 14 BYU got in some time to rest during last week’s bye. The Cougars also practiced a couple of times with an emphasis on fundamentals like blocking and tackling.
Now he is emphasizing that BYU (8-2) can’t afford to overlook Saturday’s game at Georgia Southern (3-7). The Eagles are coming off a win at Texas State in which they snapped a four-game skid.
The Cougars have won three straight.
“The approach last week was to stay on top of everything,” Sitake said. “We didn’t take a complete week off. We didn’t take total rest, but we are rested. The approach today at practice is to get ready to roll. If we have rust, we are going to shake if off (this week). Not on Saturday. Our approach is to try to get better every week.”
BYU will be missing standout receiver Neal Pau’u, who was injured in the 59-14 home win over Idaho State two weeks ago. Sitake said Pau’u also won’t play next week at USC. Pau’u leads the team with 46 catches and six touchdowns and is second with 526 yards.
“Neil’s an amazing player,” tight end Dallin Holker said. “He does a lot of great things for our team. It’ll be tough without him, but I mean we have a good team and we’re really deep, so we’ll be able to just play our best, and I feel like we’ll be good.”
Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall, who has passed for 1,995 yards, 16 touchdowns and three interceptions, will lean heavily on Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney. The pair of wideouts have combined for over 1,000 yards receiving and six TDs.
The focus of the offense will continue to be running back Tyler Allgeier, who has rushed for 1,162 yards and 17 scores.
BYU’s defense is anchored by Ben Bywater (45 unassisted tackles), Pepe Tanuvasa (three sacks) and Malik Moore (three interceptions).
Georgia Southern will counter with quarterbacks Justin Tomlin and Cam Ransom (1,471 combined yards passing with five TDs and nine picks). The receiving corps is led by Khaleb Hood (32 catches for 409 yards receiving).
The Eagles’ defense is led by Anthony Wilson (31 unassisted tackles), C.J. Wright (five sacks) and Eldrick Robinson II (two interceptions).
It will be the last home game for Georgia Southern’s seniors.
“We want to make sure we send the seniors out in the right way,” linebacker Randy Wade said. “When we’re seniors, we’ll want our young guys to do the same thing for us. As a brotherhood, we’ve got to continue to fight. Whatever happens, just know we gave it our all. Give everything we’ve got.”
NOT GOING TO SAY
Sitake was asked this week about FBS vacancies he might be interested in, such as Washington’s, but he didn’t bite. Sitake is 46-28 in six years at his alma mater and has won 19 of his last 22 games.
“Right now, I’m just focused on getting our team ready for Georgia Southern and each game after that,” he said. “That’s been my focus this entire season. I’m taking this week by week and getting these guys ready to play their best. We have some health issues and I’m trying to get guys back. That’s my focus.”
HOME SWEET HOME
Georgia Southern is 205-45 all-time at Paulson Stadium, ranking third-best behind Alabama and Boise State in FBS homefield advantage. The Eagles, who are looking to avoid their first three-game home losing streak in five years, are 28-8 at Paulson when playing in front of 20,000. A sellout crowd of 25,000 is expected.
Clay Helton, who led USC to a Rose Bowl title following the 2016 season and won a Pac-12 championship in 2017, was named the 11th full-time head coach in the Georgia Southern modern football era on Nov. 2. He won’t take over the team until after the season with Kevin Whitley serving as interim. The 49-year-old Helton went 46-24 with the Trojans while leading them to three conference championship games and 12 victories over AP Top 25 teams.
BYU’s defense has had to use its depth in 2021. Through 10 games, 22 different players have started on the defensive side of the ball.
The Cougars rank No. 15 in the nation with 12 interceptions. Eight different players have an interception.