BYU football closes fall camp healthy, ready for game preparation

While its season opener is still 10 days away, it seems as if No. 25 BYU football has already secured its first win of the campaign: There were no season-ending injuries during fall camp for Kalani Sitake’s Cougars.

“That’s crazy when you’re talking how much 11-on-11 we’ve done and we’re going to continue to do,” Sitake said of BYU’s camp health before knocking on wood.

For a program as injury-plagued as BYU has been over the past few years, heading into September without any permanent losses on the roster is as good of news as anyone could hope for.

The coaching staff has handled Keenan Pili, Payton Wilgar and Isaac Rex carefully following 2021 injuries by monitoring each of their practice “pitch counts”, while also giving rest days to other veterans on occasion to limit any unnecessary roughness. So far, it looks like both strategies have worked.

With only a handful of position battles in camp, BYU has had the chance to develop further depth on the roster— an absolute must considering BYU’s loaded upcoming schedule and Big 12 future.

“We’ve stayed healthy throughout camp which is huge for us,” defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said. “I feel like we’ve got some good depth. We’re going to need all the help that we can get with our depth going into a season with 10 games and no byes.”

Such depth has benefitted from BYU’s three intrasquad scrimmages in the preseason, with its final exhibition played Tuesday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“If you want to get good at football, then you practice football,” Sitake said. “We have done some things differently this camp compared to other camps and have put our guys in harm’s way because we are playing 11-on-11, but we’re doing it because we need to get better at it, and I don’t know how else to do it. We have been pushing our guys to the edge and have had to get a little uncomfortable to get better.”

With a scrimmage this past Saturday and another on Tuesday, coaches embraced the discomfort by running 100 plays on short rest Tuesday, but Sitake was pleased with the results he observed. “We ended the day with some situational football to put our guys in tough spots and I like the way our guys responded. We tried to create some chaos for the team since they didn’t know what to expect and I thought they handled everything the right way.”

A healthy fall camp doesn’t mean that there aren’t still causes for internal concern, however. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick was a bit uneasy following Tuesday’s scrimmage, saying the offense was “nowhere near ready for a game yet.”

“We’ll be ready a week from Saturday, but we’re not there yet,” Roderick said. “We need work in all areas of our offense.”

Roderick continued with his confidence that the Cougars would be “really good” offensively, but cited “strategic reasons” in withholding any further details of his current worries.

Now comes the time to speculate what Roderick could mean by “strategic reasons.” Was Tuesday’s scrimmage just an off day? Are there any mystery injuries or eligibility issues we haven’t heard about? Could BYU’s defense have improved so much and become so formidable that it’s curb stomping the offense each day at practice?

Whatever the reason, it’ll be good for the Cougars to switch from preseason work to actual game preparation in facing USF on Sept. 3.

“I feel comfortable with our players football IQ and team chemistry.. I see that these guys really love and care for each other and love being on the field together,” Sitake said. “We aren’t worried about the elements (in Florida), but we want to make sure we have the right guys on the field and that we’re communicating well.. I think we will be in a good spot going into the environment in September.”

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