Keenan Pili floated all over Allegiant Stadium On Saturday. He moved his feet with such finesse to get to his assignment and work on tackling his opponent.
And just as his feet were quick, his arms were strong.
The redshirt sophomore made 17 total tackles (10 solo) in BYU’s season-opening win against Arizona.
“[I was] just doing my 1/11th,” Pili said afterward.
Pili’s performance on Saturday was the first double-digit solo tackles since Harvey Langi made 10 solo tackles in the 2016 Poinsettia Bowl and is the most total tackles since Sione Takitaki made 19 tackles in the 2018 Potato Bowl against Western Michigan.
After just one game, Pili is the nation’s leader in total tackles. But how will he be able to move on from such a big performance into Week 2 against Utah?
The Provo native wants to do it all over again.
“Those 17 tackles came from our team doing their assignments, our D-line holding strong,” Pili said. “So, just keep doing my position, keep doing my role and trust my teammates do their role. And whatever the outcome is, that’s what it is and we’ll be OK.”
With 17 tackles just in the first game already, Pili is on track to have a huge 2021 season.
Although Pili first joined the Cougars in 2016, he didn’t start playing with them until 2019 — after coming back from a church mission. In 2019, Pili posted 25 total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one sack and two pass breakups in 11 games.
Then, in 10 games last season, Pili made 72 total tackles, 2 tackles for loss (six yards), one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup.
Besides the 17 tackles on Saturday, Pili also made one tackle for loss (eight yards) and one sack.
However, if it were up to coach Kalani Sitake, Pili won’t necessarily be making 17 tackles each game.
The sixth-year coach said there’s two sides to Pili’s accomplishment, and he doesn’t necessarily like the first part of it. Sitake believes his team had way too many defensive plays. Arizona had 83 offensive plays compared to BYU’s 63, so the Cougars will have to find a way to end opponents’ drives sooner, he said.
But Pili was also primed to have this kind of performance.
“He’s really active and has a great nose for the ball,” Sitake said. “I thought Keenan aand Payton [Wilgar] played great games and there’s some things they could fix and get better. But man, when those guys are flying around and playing full speed, it’s going to be hard to keep both of those guys down.”
The improvement shown in just one game is something Pili worked on during the offseason.
He not only worked on physicality and getting stronger, but on the mental side of the game.
“Learn the offense,” Pili said. “I understood my defense assignment, but how that kind of related to what the offense is going to do, wanting to do. So, yeah, I’d say the mental side has helped me a little bit.”