Provo • BYU football coach Kalani Sitake and a handful of his players said all the right things in Monday’s news briefing about playing Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 18 days.
But they couldn’t help themselves when it came to discussing the venue for the Dec. 21 matchup at Boise State’s Albertsons Stadium. The infamous blue turf is giving them the blues, and not just because they are 0-5 on the well-worn rug.
Most recently, BYU lost 21-16 to the “other” Broncos — Boise State — a month ago when freshman quarterback Zach Wilson was sacked at the 4-yard line as time expired.
“It will be cool that we’re going back on that field,” Wilson said. “But that field, honestly, is crappy. That turf is so bad. That turf is terrible. I left with so many cuts all over my body. It is like I had road burn, or whatever it is [called]."
Wilson said his hand is “still bleeding” from the game in which he was sacked seven times.
Safety Dayan Ghanwoloku concurred.
“Yeah, I don’t like that turf,” he said. “But we gotta win on it. That’s one thing, we gotta finish and win on it. It doesn’t matter who we are playing on it. They are Broncos, too, so we just gotta beat the Broncos” of Western Michigan (7-5).
Sitake called it a “great matchup for us” and praised everything about Western Michigan, from coach Tim Lester to the way the Broncos went undefeated a few years ago before falling to Wisconsin in a bowl game. The coach even had good things to say about the playing surface at Albertsons, which has a more faded look to it — like worn-out blue jeans — in person than it does on television.
“We have a lot of players from around that area in Idaho,” Sitake said. “We are familiar with being on that blue turf from earlier this year. We are excited about being around the [Boise] community and showing our guys a good time, but also having the mindset that we want to win the game. … We will have a lot of fans make the trip, and are looking forward to a competitive and good game.”
The invitation to the cold-weather bowl came as a surprise because it supposedly had tie-ins with the Mountain West Conference. But the Cougars and their coach weren’t complaining, and several noted that four other 6-6 teams were left out of the postseason.
“I really didn’t care where the game was going to be at, didn’t have an opinion and just wanted to get in a bowl game,” said Sitake, who also said he was in the dark as much as everyone else regarding where the Cougars would play until Sunday afternoon.
By far the worst news delivered last week was that senior running back Matt Hadley fractured his leg early in the second half against Utah and won’t play against Western Michigan.
“Tough guy,” Sitake said. “Walked off [the field] on his own and everything. We will miss him, but it is good to get the other guys back.”
BYU’s top two backs, senior Squally Canada (concussion) and Lopini Katoa (knee), didn’t play against the Utes. Canada has been cleared to play his final game for BYU in Boise, while Katoa “is cutting it close” to getting back and is questionable, Sitake said.
Others, such as linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, who left the rivalry game with an undisclosed injury, “won’t be counted out” but are probably going to be game-time decision, Sitake said.
Defensive end Corbin Kaufusi played against Utah with several injuries that will require surgery and definitely won’t play.
Sitake said the Cougars will practice six days this week and six days next week before leaving for Boise on Dec. 17.
“After not being in a bowl game last year, we are really excited about this one and I think it is going to be a lot of fun going to Boise. We got to find a way to get a win on that blue turf,” he said.
Tight end Matt Bushman said Wilson and other players were “just messing around” when they tweeted last week that they preferred to play in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla., and Wilson pretty much agreed.
“I am just trying to make a little stir-up, that’s all,” Wilson said.
For now, though, a couple shots at Boise’s beloved blue turf will have to do.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
At Albertsons Stadium, Boise Idaho
BYU (6-6) vs. Western Michigan (7-5), 2 p.m. MST