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BYU loses top defensive player for the season

Keenan Pili, who is currently ranked No. 5 for total tackles, will undergo surgery to repair torn ACL

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Keenan Pili, right, tackles Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas during a football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 in Provo.

Midway through the third quarter against Arizona State, Keenan Pili made a tackle on a broken play that left the redshirt sophomore on the ground grabbing his left knee. The linebacker was eventually helped off the field, but will not be making a return anytime this season.

On Monday, BYU coach Kalani Sitake announced that Pili suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Saturday’s 27-17 win over the Sun Devils.

Pili will be rehabbing and preparing for surgery in a couple of weeks, but Sitake said he will still need Pili to serve as a team leader.

“We’re going to need him leading our team still,” Sitake said. “He has a purpose, the role for us has just changed.”

The loss of Pili is huge for the BYU defense that has only allowed opponents 16.67 points through three games.

The Provo native had a huge performance in the season opener against Arizona, recording 17 tackles. Through three games, Pili tallied 31 total tackles. Even though he left the Arizona State game early, Pili’s total tackles are tied for fifth best nationally.

When asked how BYU will look to adjust without Pili, defensive back D’Angelo Mandell kept his focus on his injured teammate.

“More importantly, it’s more about Keenan because he was playing so well,” Mandell said. “I know how important the season was to him and everything like that. Obviously, we’re going to have to adjust and do things we need to do and guys are going to step up, but honestly just more worried about Keenan. An injury like that is tough.”

According to the depth chart that was released on Monday, Ben Bywater is taking Pili’s place on the field. The third-year freshman isn’t completely new to the position. Bywater started against Arizona and recorded 10 total tackles.

Filling in for Pili, Sitake said, will require “a bunch of guys” stepping up, not just Bywater.

”When you’re playing against a high-tempo, no-huddle type of team like what USF will do, we’re going to need more than just 11 starters on defense,” Sitake said. “We’re going to need a number of those guys. We’re going to have to dip into the depth.”

Bywater is the guy to step into the starting role, but Sitake said he’ll also look to Drew Johnson, Josh Wilson, Morgan Pyper and Jackson Kaufusi. He may look into what Payton Wilgar and Max Tooley can do and move guys around.

“We’ll figure it out in the next few days and give our guys a chance to compete and play with the best 11,” Sitake said.

Luckily for the Cougars, there were no other major injuries or any other season-ending injuries.

With the exception of Keenan Ellis, who is still on concussion protocol, every other Cougar is available for Saturday.

Sitake confirmed that quarterback Jaren Hall will be ready to go.

Hall left the Arizona State game with a couple of minutes left on the clock after being tackled by a few Sun Devils. After being helped off the field, Baylor Romney came in as the backup quarterback and closed out the game.

“People are sore,” Sitake said. “... Everybody’s sore. It’s OK. We’re going to go out and work hard and try to run the soreness out. Nobody’s 100% right now, we just need to be close to it by the time we get to game time on Saturday night.”

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