The last time BYU came off a bye week, it didn’t go well for the Cougars. BYU failed to maintain its lead and allowed South Florida to mount a fourth-quarter comeback, losing 27-23 in Tampa.
And that was just less than three weeks ago.
Now, BYU will face in-state rival Utah State on Saturday, two weeks after a huge homecoming win against then-No. 14 Boise State, 28-25.
“We got an early start on Utah State, so we're going to have another full practice today and be ready to roll,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “I think the guys had some rest over the weekend with not playing on Saturday, and get caught up on academics. We're ready to go today.”
The Cougars are now 1-3 in games following a bye since 2016. But this week couldn't be more different than the one earlier this month.
In its first bye week of the 2019 season, BYU was looking to regroup after Washington routed the Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium and couldn’t close out against Toledo, in Ohio.
The Cougars needed to nurse their wounds, both physical and emotional. The extra time was key in prepping Jaren Hall for his first career start after losing season-starting quarterback Zach Wilson to a fractured right (throwing) thumb against the Rockets.
But all the preparation fell mute when the Bulls handed BYU its third straight loss.
However, this time, BYU went into its latest bye week having pulled an upset over the previously undefeated Broncos.
With a different tone entering the bye week, will the Cougars still struggle coming out of it?
Either way, Sitake prefers to take advantage of bye weeks, rather than having to play every week of the season.
“This bye week is a little bit different than what we did last bye week,” Sitake said. “I think, to get the result you want, you have to change things up, but it is what it is. I'm not going to try to find 14 games in there.”
Safety Dayan Ghanwoloku believes the week will only help more to be able to prepare for the Aggies.
And the extra time was still necessary to continue to work on the team's health.
“We work just as hard, if anything, harder this bye week getting ready for Utah State and I feel like we're game ready for them right now,” Ghanwoloku said. “Having this week right now to actually prepare for them and know what they're going to do just helps us out a lot. Having a lot of people coming back healthy, we needed (the bye week), first of all, to get back from injuries... we needed it for sure.”
Against Boise State, the Cougars used their third-string quarterback, fourth-string running back, third-string right tackle and third-string left guard.
Baylor Romney stepped in at quarterback for his first career start and first since finishing his high school career five years ago after Hall suffered concussion symptoms at South Florida.
The Cougars relied on Sione Finau at running back. Finau stepped into the role after season-starter Ty’Son Williams, Emmanuel Esupka and Lopini Katoa, and rushed for 89 yards on 11 carries and scored a touchdown against the Broncos.
The offense may just have the most depth of the team, especially after how it responded to injuries, Sitake said.
“I think any time you go to your third-string guys and you're able to still do well and have a good performance against an undefeated, ranked team, that's a good sign,” Sitake said.
Even though BYU got the result it needed against Boise State, Sitake said there were still areas that needed improvement.
Throughout their latest bye week, the team showed the same level of intensity, but Sitake's approach did include trying to get Hall and other injured players ready.
And for those not recovering, they are expected to be game-ready, even if it’s their first time on the field.
“We probably did a little more work than we did the week before, knowing we were going to have a second bye week, but I think this is a strong push towards the end of the year,” Sitake said. “Guys are going to have to step up. We’re going to have to go through some hardships, even on the practice field.”