There were several reasons BYU mounted a huge comeback Friday to snag its fifth consecutive win. But junior wide receiver Dax Milne pointed to a specific one: fans.
Friday’s road win over Houston marked the first time this season the Cougars played in front of fans. They hadn’t done so in the previous four games.
And with Lavell Edwards Stadium finally allowing the 6,000 fans it planned on having this season, the Cougars feel they can benefit that much more from the home atmosphere.
“I think when you don’t have fans, you kind of have to create your own energy as a team and on the sideline,” senior Zayne Anderson said Monday via teleconference with reporters. “With fans, it brings a little more energy.”
BYU’s teams have the luxury of having a fan base that spans much of the United States. So when the Cougars trailed in the fourth quarter against Houston, the BYU faithful that showed up gave the players that extra oomph.
“We felt it in Houston, I think,” Anderson said. “We had a lot of Cougar fans there and it helped having them throughout the whole game. They had our backs. I think it created an edge for us as well.”
BYU football’s first three home games were played without spectators due to rising coronavirus cases in Provo, which recently moved to a higher restriction level. But according to the state’s new transmission index, establishments in counties labeled “high transmission” can allow public gatherings so long as masks are required and there is 6 feet of physical distance between household groups.
Utah County currently has a high level of transmission.
But coach Kalani Sitake didn’t sound concerned about the high number of new cases Utah has reported in recent weeks.
“The numbers that I visibly see in the last three weeks are way different than anywhere else that I’ve seen,” Sitake said. “So I applaud the sports medicine department, the administration and our football team and staff for being mindful of the spread and trying to minimize it as much as possible because the numbers we’re seeing are really, really good in a positive way.”
The university self-reports COVID-19 cases. In the past four weeks, they have declined from a daily average of 67.9 to 22.3, per BYU’s dashboard.
Sophomore Masen Wake said the players are still reminded of the pandemic because they have to pay attention to the protocols that allow their season to continue. But it’s a different feeling when they’re on the field.
“As far as football games and practices, it just feels normal,” Wake said. “We adapted and it honestly feels pretty good.”
The Cougars will get another piece of that normalcy Saturday at home against Texas Tech when they’ll see their home fans. Anderson said players got four tickets each, which he will use for his family because they have not seen him play yet this season.
And although only 6,000 are allowed at a stadium that holds nearly 64,000, Sitake expects a raucous atmosphere.
“They’re going to have to make a lot of noise,” Sitake said. “They know what we’re demanding from them. We’re expecting it to be a lot of fun. … I think there’s a lot of men, women and children in that group of 6,000 that are going to make enough noise for the rest.”