A depleted Houston still presents No. 14 BYU with its toughest test of the season

(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith) | Houston quarterback Clayton Tune throws a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Memphis, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Houston. Tune leads an impressive UH offense into Friday's game against No. 14 BYU.

Provo • BYU’s football started its season nearly six weeks ago, but the Cougars are making just their second road trip of the campaign this week, traveling to Texas to face the Houston Cougars on Friday night

But while it’s BYU’s fifth game of the season, it will only be Houston’s second game.

The jarring difference in schedules means BYU may be more in tune and settled in, but it also provides more ammunition for UH to use — more game film is available to review.

Still, BYU coach Kalani Sitake believes there was plenty to take away from Houston’s season opener against Tulane. The UH Cougars' 49-31 victory over the Green Wave showed they are well coached, have plenty of veteran leadership and can score points in a hurry, he said.

“A lot of coaches say you see a lot of improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, so we’re expecting a much better team in this game against us than what they did in the first game,” Sitake said. “And what they did in their first game was really, really impressive.”

There will be one crucial change that could have a significant outcome on the game, though: Houston will be without 17 of its players.

Houston coach Dana Holgorsen has been unclear about the 17 players that will miss Friday’s action is due to injuries, COVID-19 or any other reason.

On Tuesday, Holgorsen said the Cougars had some injuries, but “nothing’s long term.” As far as COVID-19, Holgorsen believes the staff and players have done a great job of abiding by coronavirus safety measures in place and have taken care of themselves when someone starts feeling under the weather.

“I’m just sitting here looking at my board and going yeah, we got about 15-20 guys out for a variety of reasons, but ain’t none of them long term. The good news is nothing’s long term, but the bad news is I don’t know exactly who’s going to be available Friday night.”

BYU will be dealing with its own changes to the depth chart.

Lorenzo Fauatea, a backup at tackle and nose, was injured during the UTSA game, but was deemed out for the remainder of the season this week. Sophomore kicker Jake Oldroyd sat out last week’s game with a “minor injury,” according to Special Teams Coordinator Ed Lamb. Walk-on Justen Smith replaced Oldroyd.

But Oldroyd is back this week to handle field goals and kickoffs.

James Empey, the Cougars' season-starting center, missed the last two weeks due to an undisclosed injury. Sitake and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said this week that Empey is close to returning.

Another BYU player that could return soon is Sione Finau. Finau led the Cougars last year in rushing yards, but suffered an ACL injury in November. During Monday’s Coordinator' Corner, Grimes said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Finau is available this week or next.

Either way, regardless of possible depth chart changes, Houston is looking like BYU’s biggest test of the 2020 season. So far, anyway.

Junior wide receiver Gunner Romney, who’s currently in the top five receivers in the nation, is excited for the challenge. Especially because it will be the first game the Cougars play in front of fans this year.

TDECU Stadium is allowing a maximum of 25% capacity at games this year, while enforcing masks and asking fans to maintain a 6-feet distance from other guest. Houston has also implemented mobile ticketing.

“It’s our first game with fans, so it’s going to be different because it’s been weird these last couple of games, but everybody’s really excited,” Romney said. “We’re fired up because we’ve been hearing everything about ‘oh, your strength or schedule is this,’ or whatever. We’re excited to go out. Houston’s a good team, so we’re ready for the challenge and ready to amp it up this week.”


At TDECU Stadium, Houston

Kickoff » Friday, 7:30 p.m. MT


Radio » 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius 143.

Records » BYU 4-0; Houston 1-0

All-time series » BYU leads 2-0

Last meeting » BYU 33, Houston 25 (Sept. 11, 2014)

About BYU » While these two versions of the Cougars have met twice previously, this will be BYU’s first trip to Texas to take on UH. … BYU’s 4-0 start is the first for the program since 2014 and the ninth 4-0 start in program history. … Zach Wilson reached the 1,000 passing yard mark in a single season in fewer attempts than any other BYU quarterback with just 73.

About Houston » The UH Cougars overcame a 17-point deficit to win their season opener against Tulane last week in their long-delayed season opener. … Senior quarterback Clayton Tune completed 20 of 33 passes for 319 yards and two touchdowns. … Senior wide receiver Marquez Steveson became the 14th Cougar to rack up 2,000 career receiving yards, finishing the game with five catches for 118 yards and set a TDECU Stadium record with a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown.

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