Well-rested BYU expecting NIU’s ‘best shot’ because Huskies also had a bye last week and are also 4-3 and have also played a demanding schedule

Cougars coach Kalani Sitake says fans should enjoy the rare early-afternoon kickoff because game at Boise State in two weeks will be another late-night affair.

Leah Hogsten | With Matt Hadley leading the way, BYU ran the ball at will against Hawaii two weeks ago, but could find the going more difficult this Saturday against Northern Illinois' stingy defense.

Provo • No word yet on whether BYU football coach Kalani Sitake consulted friend and mentor Kyle Whittingham for tips on beating Northern Illinois on Saturday (1:30 p.m., ESPNU) after the Utes downed the Huskies 17-6 the second week of the college football season.

But judging from all the good things Sitake had to say about the Mid-American Conference foe during his weekly Monday press briefing, he almost certainly will if he hasn’t already.

“They are a competitive group, and we expect the same thing [they did against Utah],” Sitake said, noting that NIU had a chance to upset the Utes in the fourth quarter. “So, I think we are fortunate to have them at home. We are expecting their best shot. We just have to make sure they get ours. I like our chances if we get that done.”

Both teams are 4-3 and both are coming off byes. Sitake said his team used the time off to get in some extra preparation time, heal up, and get caught up on academics. Also, several coaches hit the recruiting trail over the weekend.

Northern Illinois is a “good, quality team,” Sitake said. “Well-coached. They play really rough defense. They have an All-America defensive end [Sutton Smith] that is really active. Their whole defense is just really tough. … I know their head coach [Rod Carey] and he gets them to play tough, and they do really well. We are looking forward to the matchup.”

BYU also released its new depth chart Monday, and to no one’s surprise freshman Zach Wilson is listed as the starting quarterback. Wilson replaced six-game starter Tanner Mangum two weeks ago and led the Cougars to a 49-23 win over Hawaii.

To a man, the Cougars are expecting a tougher time against NIU.

“No disrespect to Hawaii or anything like that, but Northern Illinois is going to be a big test for Zach,” said BYU receiver Aleva Hifo. “They have a really good defense. The only losses that they have this season are to Power Five teams [Utah, Iowa and Florida State] and they have played good football up until now.

“A lot of people may look down at Northern Illinois just because of whatever reason they feel, but Northern Illinois is a really good football team, and it will be a good test for our offense and a good test for Zach,” Hifo continued.

BYU offensive lineman Austin Hoyt said establishing the running attack “is going to be a huge emphasis this week, that lower pad level,” because NIU is so good at stopping the run.

With a 1:30 p.m. kickoff time, it will be a rare afternoon start for the Cougars, who have played six of their previous seven games after 4 p.m. Also Monday, the Cougars learned that their Nov. 3 game at Boise State will begin at 8:15 p.m. at Albertsons Stadium.

“I am just happy we get to play football,” Sitake said, noting that he doesn’t have a preference on starting times. He might change his mind when temperatures are in the 40s in Boise, Idaho, in early November.

“I am just glad we get to play the game, and I love my role,” Sitake said. “So yeah, when it is a night time game you don’t have to worry about the sun being in our eyes or anything like that.”

BYU’s biggest health question revolves around senior running back Squally Canada, who missed the Hawaii game with a concussion, but also has some nagging lower-leg injuries.

Middle linebacker Butch Pau’u is still dealing with a hand injury, and he is now listed as the backup to Sione Takitaki on the two-deep chart.

“As soon as [Pau’u] gets healthy and is ready to roll he can provide more competition for that spot,” Sitake said. “Those linebacker spots, a lot of guys are still competing for them.”

Senior defensive end Corbin Kaufusi appeared at the news conference wearing a big protective brace on his right elbow. Kaufusi downplayed the injury and said he will be ready to play Saturday. He also played some middle linebacker against the Rainbow Warriors, much as he did in the opener against Arizona.

"My role is to do whatever is needed,” said Kaufusi, who has six sacks. “So, whether that is playing in the middle, or whether I am an outside backer, or whether I am on the D line, anywhere they need me to play, and whatever is best for the team, I will do it.”

Saturday’s Game

Northern Illinois at BYU, 1:30 p.m.


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