BYU balancing final exams, winter sports fun and hard practices in Boise as bowl game vs. Western Michigan approaches

Cougars and Broncos will tangle Friday at Albertsons Stadium in Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU football coach Kalani Sitake, shown here congratulating Matt Hadley after a touchdown run against Utah, has practiced the Cougars hard leading up to Friday's Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Boise, Idaho • Former BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall was often accused of not getting all he could out of the maximum number of practices allotted by the NCAA before the Cougars’ bowl games.

Nobody dressed in blue and white is accusing third-year coach Kalani Sitake of that sort of cavalier attitude as the Cougars have settled in here in Boise for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Friday (2 p.m. MST, ESPN).

The 6-6 team’s readiness level is “very high,” said offensive lineman Tristen Hoge before the Cougars practiced Wednesday afternoon at the Cavan-Williams Sports Complex — Boise State’s indoor practice facility — next to Albertsons Stadium.

“With the seriousness we are having, I expect us to play our best,” Hoge said.

Most of the Cougars arrived in Boise via bus — it is less than a six-hour drive from Provo — on Monday, while Hoge and others such as quarterback Tanner Mangum who are from Idaho drove their own cars.

They participated in a service project with opponent Western Michigan on Monday afternoon, then went to the Bogus Basin Ski Resort on Tuesday for some winter sports fun that included tubing but no skiing.

“We had a good time tubing,” said Sitake. “Any time you can tube and not have to walk back up the hill, that’s like a huge plus for me. So, technology has been really nice. We enjoyed our time doing that.”

Sitake said practices Monday and Tuesday in Boise were more focused and spirited than practices in Provo because the players know it is game week and the end is in sight. Also, some players have had to take final exams as this is finals week at BYU.

“When we got out here, it was kinda like a new scenery, so it has been fun for them,” Sitake said. “I feel like we have utilized 15 practices really well and I don’t think it has gotten stale. … I wish we could have got here earlier, because the guys have had a lot more energy out here in Boise.”

Injury update

Sitake said sophomore linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi “is still not looking good” and remains doubtful for the game with an undisclosed injury. Running back Lopini Katoa has been practicing after missing the Utah game with a knee injury “but is still kind of day to day.”

The coach said linebacker Riggs Powell is back after also missing the Utah game, and fellow senior Tanner Jacobson and can also play the flash linebacker spot that has been ravaged by injuries to Zayne Anderson and now Kaufusi. Seniors Adam Pulsipher and Rhett Sandlin will also fill in, as needed.

Seniors Sione Takitaki and Butch Pau’u are solid at middle linebacker, while “Nate Sampson has done some really good things in practice this week as well,” Sitake said.

Sawyer Powell will be back

Safety Sawyer Powell will have to give back the blanket he received on Senior Night because the defensive back from Richland, Wash., has been granted another season of eligibility by the NCAA after filing a request for a medical hardship waiver. Powell missed the 2017 season with a back injury.

“To get an extra year, it has been a dream, I guess,” said Powell, a reserve player who has made 17 tackles and recovered a fumble this season.

All-Independent honorees

Seven BYU players made the 2018 Phil Steele All-Independent Team, which was announced Wednesday.

Defenders Corbin Kaufusi and Sione Takitaki, offensive tackle Austin Hoyt and tight end Matt Bushman made the first team.

Linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, punter Rhett Almond and long snapper Mitch Harris made the second team.

Pulsipher honored

BYU senior linebacker Adam Pulsipher and Western Michigan running back Jamauri Bogan were honored Monday with the game’s annual Humanitarian Award for their work in their respective communities.

Pulsipher was a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy and graduated with a degree in finance prior to his junior season. He’s a second-year graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in public administration.

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Friday’s game, at Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho

BYU (6-6) vs. Western Michigan (7-5), 2 p.m.