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BYU football may have taken a break from playing, but not from working

(Photo courtesy of Jaren Wilkey | BYU) Head coach Kalani Sitake during BYU football practice in Provo, Aug. 10, 2020.

The BYU football team may have had its first bye week in nearly two months last week, but the eighth-ranked Cougars didn’t necessarily take any time off. Instead, BYU continued trying to improve as it gets ready to host North Alabama Saturday.

If it were up to the Cougars, they’d play every weekend. But there’s also something to be said about taking a break following seven consecutive games.

Instead of focusing on a specific opponent, the Cougars concentrated on fundamentals, including strength, speed and conditioning. Most importantly, BYU also made sure to get the team’s health back up to par.

“Bye weeks, when they’re well-timed like this, are appreciated,” offensive lineman Chandon Herring said. “It’s great to focus back on your own individual fundamentals and technique without the stress of prepping for a game that’s coming up that week.”
Throughout the bye week, the Cougars continued taking COVID-19 precautions as seriously as if they had a weekend game. The team continued to be tested three times a week, wore masks and socially distanced as much as possible.
The state of Utah is still in a continued spike of COVID-19 cases that began in late September. The continued surge led Gov. Gary Herbert to issue a new State of Emergency last week with stricter orders regarding the coronavirus.

Due to the new orders, BYU will not allow fans into LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday. However, coaches' and players' families will be able to attend.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake said Saturday’s game is still on schedule to be played and the Cougars are doing good compared to other teams around the nation. BYU’s COVID-19 numbers “aren’t as high” and “our players are being smart and trying to do everything they can.”

Just on Friday, Utah saw its second attempt at a season-opening game (this time at UCLA) canceled due to an outbreak of cases among the Utes. Utah now plans to open the season Saturday against No. 20 USC.

Because the virus is so unpredictable, Sitake said, a player can be smart about it, do everything right and still contract COVID-19. If and when that happens, the fifth-year coach hopes the protocols in place are strong enough to protect other players.

“We have to go with the right protocols and make sure they are quarantined and that they do a good job of making sure we eliminate the issues that come along with contact tracing,” Sitake said. “I don’t know all the issues, but I imagine that seems to be the biggest issue with a lot of the other teams.”

The Cougars will continue to adapt to whatever changes or obstacles they are presented with as they try to wrap up the 2020 regular season. Fans or no fans, home or on the road, the focus will still be on keeping the players safe, Sitake said.

Even though things keep changing, BYU saw the importance of staying safe in September when its game against Army was canceled due to an outbreak among the Cougars. Since then, BYU hasn’t needed to cancel or postpone any other games.

After Saturday’s game, the Cougars only have one more opponent left on the schedule. With cancellations happening every week around the country, it is hard to say if BYU will land another opponent or two to the schedule or just play what’s left.

“This whole season’s different,” Sitake said. “My feelings are, we’re going to be ready to play every week. That’s what I’m going to prep our team to be. Regardless if we have a game schedule that weekend or not, we will be ready for a game every weekend.”

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