BYU football is in search of healthy bodies. Why the Cougars feel like they ‘don’t have any players left’

Without a bye week until the middle of November, the mounting injuries are hard to ignore as the Cougars head to Boise State

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) and Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) celebrate a touchdown as BYU hosts East Carolina, NCAA football in Provo on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022.

Provo • Clark Barrington laughed at the question: Would things be different if BYU’s bye week came before the middle of November?

“Honestly, I don’t know,” the offensive lineman and captain said with a grin. “I could tell you if we had one. But we haven’t had one. So we are just doing our thing, trying to play the best we can.”

Of all the things to examine in a season gone wrong, the placement of a bye week isn’t the most important. It doesn’t carry the same weight as the run defense or running game. But this schedule has done BYU no favors. The 4-5 team hasn’t had a week off since August.

As much as head coach Kalani Sitake remains adamant that playing 10 straight weeks to start the season doesn’t provide an excuse, it is hard to ignore the devastation it has taken on the roster.

BYU has started 42 different players season. That is tied for the third-most in the country after New Mexico (47) and Texas A&M (43). There have been 19 different starters on offense and 23 on defense. Every week, it seems like BYU loses another playmaker.

Starting linebackers Max Tooley and Payton Wilgar were out last week and aren’t practicing this week. Starting running back Chris Brooks has missed games and will likely miss another on Saturday. BYU’s leading receiver, Kody Epps, is out for the year.

As the Cougars head into their 10th game, in the midst of a four-game losing streak, they are a team in search of enough healthy bodies to compete.

“We keep giving up the shape of the defense in this call, or maybe this player is hurting us,” defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said. “It has to be a combination of both, especially when you don’t have any players left. The guys who practiced for you just aren’t there anymore.”

Like Barrington, Tuiaki laughed after putting the situation into words. It seems to be the common response within a program that is running on fumes right now.

Safety Malik Moore is out for the season. The defensive line has been a rotating door with nearly everyone hurt.

The wide receiver room hasn’t played a single game with its best three receivers healthy. Gunner Romney played in just two games. Puka Nacua has been in and out. Freshman Chase Roberts hasn’t made it through the year unscathed, either.

The list could go on, and likely will as the season progresses.

“You always pray for their health,” quarterback Jaren Hall said when asked if the injuries are wearing on him as a leader.

Of course, the toll of the injuries and no bye week isn’t the main reason for this spiral. It can’t completely explain away how poorly the defense has played and how inconsistent the offense has been.

But when BYU put together its toughest schedule of the independence era, it didn’t give itself any help. And now, as the team desperately needs answers, it doesn’t have any because it simply has run out of men.

“College football is tough,” safety Morgan Pyper, now playing a heavy role because of injuries, said. “Every single week, for 10 weeks straight, does a lot to the body. But you only play college football once in your life. So, as long as your body is feeling good, let’s go out and play some ball.”