BYU notebook: Gunner Romney could make debut, generating turnovers, end of an era with the Old Wagon Wheel

The Cougars’ injury list runs 10 players deep as fifth week of the season arrives.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Gunner Romney celebrates after scoring a touchdown as the Cougars play the Utah Utes in football, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 in Provo.

Provo • The injury report is at the top of mind as BYU rolls into the fifth week of the season. Upward of 10 starters had injury questions when head coach Kalani Sitake gave his Monday morning address.

The silver lining for the Cougars is that wide receiver Gunner Romney is likely to play this week and make his season debut. He suffered a kidney injury early in fall camp, according to multiple people inside the program.

“I expect Gunner to play, [but] I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said on BYUtv this Monday.

As for everyone else, Sitake believes that linebacker Max Tooley and defensive linemen Gabe Summers and Earl Tuioti-Mariner will return after sitting out against Wyoming. Offensive lineman Kingsley Suamataia is also expected to return after getting hurt mid-game last Saturday.

“We held some guys out on game-time decisions knowing this game was [on a short week],” Sitake said. “It was either miss the game against Wyoming or miss the Utah State game. There was just not enough time to recover.”

Wide receiver Puka Nacua briefly returned last week after a two-week hiatus, but went out in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. He had to be helped off the field and Sitake did not know how serious the injury was.

Sitake indicated Nacua is still being evaluated and his status is unknown.

Safety Malik Moore also falls into the unknown category, along with cornerback Kaleb Hayes.

Getting turnovers

BYU’s defense has talked often about creating more turnovers. Through a third of the season, it has only created two.

This week against Utah State will be a telling sign of whether the defense has the personnel to create disruptions. The Aggies have turned the ball over 12 times this season. Nine of those turnovers have been interceptions.

Notably, BYU’s secondary hasn’t generated either one of the Cougar’s interceptions. Linebackers Ben Bywater and Tooley account for both of the defense’s takeaways.

With Hayes potentially not playing, look for cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally to have some chances to create a takeaway. Another option is D’Angelo Mandell, who hasn’t recorded an interception in his four-year career.

Utah State quarterback Logan Bonner — now in his sixth year of college football — has given defenses plenty of opportunities this season. He threw five interceptions last week against UNLV.

End of an era

For what should be a relatively uneventful game, it is the end of an era this week. BYU does not have any games scheduled against Utah State after Thursday night.

The battle for the Old Wagon Wheel has been a staple in Utah for nearly a century. It has produced some memorable stories, like the old Utah State manager Steve Wiley running up to Provo to steal the trophy.

BYU cut the game as it heads to the Big 12, but Utah State athletic director John Hartwell expressed interest in keeping the rivalry going this summer.

“I think that is a great rivalry, in-state,” wide receiver Brayden Cosper said. “They are going to come with a lot of energy. We respect them a lot. ... It is fun for the fans as well.”