Provo • With very few legitimate playmakers, an injury- and suspension-depleted corps of running backs, and now a shaky quarterback situation, BYU’s offense has had little margin for error this season.
But the Cougars rediscovered a familiar shortcoming in the 20-13 loss to Fresno State last Saturday. Their receivers had a hard time catching the football. At least six times receivers dropped passes they should have caught, including one near the goal line that cost BYU a touchdown.
“Yeah, I thought we had addressed [drops] as much as we could,” coach Kalani Sitake said after the loss. “More receivers need to step up. … I thought we did some good things, but we just have to make more plays.”
Slot receiver Micah Simon said catching the football was a point of emphasis in practice on Monday.
“You just have to have that mentality that when the ball is in the air, it is yours,” Simon said. “Go up and high point it and be strong and come down with the ball. There is not much to it.”
Returning to Las Vegas
BYU recruits Las Vegas rather heavily, but this year’s roster features only one native of Sin City, defensive tackle Trajan Pili. The sophomore played at Centennial High, which is in the northwestern part of the valley, and knows a lot of UNLV players and coaches, including head coach Tony Sanchez.
“It will be a fun game, an exciting time,” Pili said. “It will be good to seem some people, old faces.”
Pili said there probably won’t be time for tours or visits, but he expects to have dozens of friends and family members in the stands at Sam Boyd Stadium. His brother, Keenan Pili, signed with BYU but is currently on a church mission.
“That is always a dream, when you go to college, to go back to your hometown and play the college team from your hometown, UNLV,” he said. “It will be a fun weekend.”
Quarterback Tanner Mangum had surgery on his injured right Achilles tendon Monday, and coach Kalani Sitake said either Beau Hoge, Joe Critchlow or Kody Wilstead will start Friday night against the Rebels. Simon said it will be difficult to watch Mangum miss significant time for the second time this season.
“It sucks to have a guy work so hard to come back from his first injury, and then have to go out again,” Simon said. “We are praying for him. I feel for him. Still, [it is] next man up mentality. Beau and Joe will carry us through and we will lean on them, and they will lean on us, and we will be fine.”
Hall close to returning
After rushing for more than 100 yards against San Jose State, sophomore KJ Hall missed the Fresno State game with an undisclosed injury. Squally Canada picked up the slack, rushing for 84 yards on 12 carries. Sitake said he is “hoping” that Hall will be ready to play Friday.
“He has been day to day, and he is a lot better now than he was last week,” Sitake said. “Last week we had to make a decision in what was best for him, and it made more sense to keep him out. Squally, being 100 percent, looked really good last week. Hopefully we can add KJ to the mix.”
BYU holds a 16-3 lead in its series with UNLV and is 8-0 against the Rebels in Sam Boyd Stadium. … The Cougars have now had 36 different players miss significant time with an injury, including 13 starters.