BYU’s Jaren Hall, Puka Nacua could be playing their last game in Provo

BYU notebook: Chris Brooks not shutting it down after a lost season, Kalani Sitake’s thoughts on a buy game.

(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 • Jaren Hall and Puka Nacua played it off as though they hadn’t made a decision on whether this will be their final home game.

Hall said he isn’t focused on that right now. Nacua said he will evaluate his future after the regular season ends.

“I don’t want to think about it yet,” Hall said. “Just want to spend time with the boys. It is a fun time. A lot of good things going for us right now so just try to be in the moment.”

But this Saturday, as Senior Day arrives against Utah Tech, the futures of BYU’s top two players will be the main topic even if they aren’t discussing it.

Both Nacua and Hall have another year of eligibility remaining but could enter the NFL draft in a few months. Coach Kalani Sitake said both juniors will be honored as if they are leaving, but it doesn’t mean they have made a decision.

“There are about 15 to 20 players who can be honored but are still making their decision of whether they want to [come back],” Sitake said. “I think the safe bet, for me, is just to honor everybody and then they don’t have to make a decision this week.”

There are roughly 14 starters in a similar position to Hall and Nacua. On defense, the most notable potential departures include Keenan Pili, Max Tooley, Payton Wilgar and Gabe Summers. On offense, players like Clark Barrington, Blake Freeland, Masen Wake and Gunner Romney are on the list.

Interestingly, running back Jackson McChesney also made the cut of underclassmen walking on Senior Day. McChesney has been hurt most of this season. It was unclear if he would come back next year as the running back room loses Chris Brooks and Lopini Katoa.

“There are going to be guys that are going to have the benefit of having two Senior Days, I guess,” Sitake said of the potential for some people to come back. “But this way we don’t have to [make] a decision this week. They can take their time in making that decision.”

Chris Brooks coming back on Saturday

Cal transfer Chris Brooks came into this season as the clear-cut starter at running back. Then, by the second month of the season, he was essentially benched for Miles Davis and Lopini Katoa.

When he earned his starting spot back, he got hurt and missed the past two weeks. This week, he wasn’t even listed on the depth chart heading into his final home game of his college career.

Despite all of that, though, running backs coach Harvey Unga said Brooks will try to play this week rather than shut it down for the season.

“Hopefully he will get some reps in this game,” Unga said. “It is just kinda a day-to-day deal. I’m planning on him playing.”

It is unclear what type of role Brooks is coming back to even if he is healthy. Katoa emerged as BYU’s go-to running back. Fifth-string back Hinckley Ropati also had 110 total yards in BYU’s last game, against Boise State. None of that accounts for Miles Davis, who has been hurt off and on for the past month.

Unga acknowledged that Brooks’ season has spiraled in a way he did not anticipate. That said, he will try to find Brooks some reps in his final game in Provo.

On the season, Brooks has rushed for only 463 yards and five touchdowns.

“This is another opportunity [for him],” Unga said of Brooks coming back. “That is the key. You can sit here and try to look at the past and dwell on it. But it is not going to do anybody any good. So I pretty much just told him, ‘Hey there are opportunities left out there. Make the most of it. You can still end this thing on a high note.’”

A buy game in week 11?

With independence-era scheduling, BYU will play its buy game against an FCS opponent in November instead of September again. BYU is paying Utah Tech $425,000 to play this game, according to the contract obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.

It certainly is not when BYU needs to play this game, now that a 5-5 season is basically over and many of the starters are injured again. But at least this will be the final time it happens as the Cougars join the Big 12 next year.

“The schedule is whatever the schedule shows up,” Sitake said. “I appreciate all the work that goes into making our schedule during the independent stage of our program. Most teams have the FCS game in the early parts of the year. Then they have their bye game a few weeks later.”

Sitake reflected on how the schedule will be more normal for college football standards next year. BYU will open with Sam Houston and then play Southern Utah. Arkansas and a bye week will follow shortly after.

“We haven’t had that [normal] schedule in a long time,” Sitake said. “That’s OK. That is just what it is. So next year when we go back to what everybody else is doing, it will just be a different type of schedule. This year was 10 weeks in a row.”