Through all the ups and downs the BYU football team has endured this year, the Cougars were really looking forward to being able to play in front of a home crowd in LaVell Edwards Stadium.
That plan was scrapped Tuesday because of the county’s huge coronavirus spike. Instead of 6,000 fans, the Cougars will play Saturday in an empty stadium.
The players are rolling with it.
“We played Navy with no fans, so we can play here with no fans, too,” junior wide receiver Gunner Romney said. “I think it hasn’t really been a huge difference in what we see, but hopefully it won’t affect us at all.”
The Cougars may have a bigger issue than having to provide their own energy on the field.
Through fall camp, the offense — particularly the offensive line — stood out for its impressive improvement. The growth was showcased in the season opener at Navy, when the Cougars put up a 580 total yards (301 rushing, 279 passing).
But instead of building on the momentum, the team was forced to hit pause.
The Cougars game at Army was postponed due to an outbreak of coronavirus cases among the BYU players, causing team practices to be halted a week. That pause threw off the offense’s rhythm and timing, which they have been working on getting back this week before hosting Troy in the home opener.
But will the Cougars be able to recover in time? Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes thinks so.
The offense had a little rust getting back into team practices Monday, but after Wednesday’s practice Grimes believed they had almost managed to shake it all off.
“Last week we weren’t able to operate in a normal practice routine, working more in small groups, and that had a little bit more impact on our timing that I thought it would,” Grimes said. “But I feel like today we really took a good step forward in the right direction and looking forward to tomorrow, have another good practice and we’ll be close to game time.”
Romney acknowledged the break in action (it’ll be nearly a three-week gap between the Navy game and Troy game) has resulted in a weird situation. But the Cougars have found themselves in multiple weird situations throughout the pandemic and Romney expects they’ll find a way to recover.
Luckily for the Cougars, Romney said there’s plenty of experience on the team which has helped navigate the pandemic, and the latest team battle with injuries. Junior linebacker Chaz Ah You had surgery Friday and will be out for the season.
“It’s hard to keep that midseason form when that timing is perfect, because that’s crucial to an offense and you have to have that through repetition,” Romney said. “This week, I think we started off a little bit slow throughout the week, but I think throughout the week has gotten better and better. And I think we’re looking the way we did before this long layoff. I think we’ll be ready to go in this game.”
Having situations constantly changing for the Cougars (schedule changes, COVID-19 outbreaks, small-group workouts, having no fans in the stands), can be a distraction for players and coaches, but it has also helped the Cougars focus on the situation at hand.
Junior running back Lopini Katoa said, because everything can change day-to-day, he’s focusing on one day at a time, one practice at a time. Looking too far ahead, everything is unsure.
“We’re thankful that we even got to practice today and right now, as we know it, we can practice tomorrow,” Katoa said following Wednesday’s practice. “So we just had to look that far ahead and make the most of it.”
TROY AT NO. 18 BYU
At LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
Kickoff » Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MT
TV » ESPN
Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143.
Records » No. 18 BYU 1-0; Troy 1-0
All-time series » First meeting
About BYU » The Cougars are 13-7 in home openers since 2000. Troy will be just the seventh Group of Five team to face the Cougars in their home opener during that run. … BYU is currently ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll — the best since 2014 — and No. 23 in the Coaches Poll. … After the season opener, BYU wide receiver Gunner Romney leads the nation in yards per reception, averaging 33.5 yards.
About Troy » Troy offensive coordinator Ryan Pugh makes a return to Provo. Pugh served as the offensive line coach in Provo in 2018 under BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. … The Trojans are coming off a 47-14 victory over Middle Tennessee. … In his first career start, sophomore quarterback Gunnar Watson completed 26 of 37 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.