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Filling in the gaps: BYU football has to replace intangible contributions of departed players

By Jared Lloyd - | Jun 29, 2022

BYU senior wide receiver Samson Nacua celebrates a touchdown during a game against Virginia at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Oct. 30, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

It’s easy to quantify the statistical impact that the BYU football team faces after losing running back Tyler Allgeier, offensive lineman James Empey, defensive lineman Uriah Leiataua, quarterback Baylor Romney and wide receivers Neil Pau’u and Samson Nacua.

The numbers, after all, are pretty straightforward:

  • 1,677 total rushing yards
  • 805 total passing yards
  • 1,067 receiving yards
  • 39 touchdowns
  • 27 tackles
  • 2.5 sacks
  • 4 tackles for a loss

In many ways, however, the bigger concern for the Cougars in 2022 is filling the voids those players left that aren’t quantifiable, things like energy, toughness, dedication, experience, leadership and poise.

“You never know how that is going to shape up,” BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said at media day last week. “Those are big things. What’s fun about the game is that there is a lot more to it than just the talent or the names. There are a bunch of unseen things that make a team great. The part I love is making all of that fit together.”

He said having athletes step up into key roles is something that shows when the team takes the field.

BYU sophomore running back Tyler Allgeier scores a touchdown during the 35-31 Cougar win over USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2021. (Courtesy BYU Photo)

“Great teams have great leaders,” Roderick said. “I believe we have great leaders but that’s why you play the games. They’ve got to go out and show it, do it on game day.”

As he thought about the offense, Roderick noted that he has seen guys with the potential to elevate themselves and the team like their predecessors did. Now it comes down to turning the possibilities into realities.

“I know Chris Brooks can run the ball,” Roderick said. “I know he is going to make big plays for us. But he’s got to prove to us that he can get stronger in the fourth quarter the way Tyler (Allgeier) did. That’s a challenge we are going to put to him. I know he is really good but I want to see him take over games in the fourth quarter the way Tyler did.”

Another example Roderick pointed to was at wide receiver. He is confident Puka Nacua will take on even more of the role of bringing energy to the team since his older brother, Samson Nacua, has graduated but he doesn’t want all of that to fall to Puka Nacua.

“Puka has a lot of energy like Samson, but I want to see guys like Keanu Hill step up and bring that energy that Samson brought last year,” Roderick said.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU

BYU junior wide receiver Neil Pau'u waves to the fans after the game against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

Puka Nacua, for his part, said he thinks it is “super-important” for players to do those things to make the team great but added that “it’s not something you can really force on individuals.”

“These are things we need to naturally have happen,” Puka Nacua said. “That’s why we have certain leaders on our football team. I think of Jaren Hall and Clark Barrington and some of the guys who have been here for awhile. They’ve seen the program go from winning seven games to 10 games and know what it takes. We’re going to rely on them to make sure this ship is headed in the right direction.”

Roderick has more confidence that guys will see the intangible needs and grow into those roles because of how BYU has put so much on the players for so long.

“It’s definitely part of our team culture and how we develop leadership,” Rodericks said. “With the rules in place now allowing us to be with them more, we could be doing more than we are doing. But we don’t want to completely take it over from them because there is a system in place with those guys leading. We’re trying to be around but let them lead the team, let the leaders emerge and develop.”

BYU's Uriah Leiataua (58) celebrates a sack against Arizona at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. (BYU Courtesy Photo)

BYU center James Empey prepares to snap the ball during the 26-17 Cougar loss to Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (Courtesy BYU Photo)

BYU sophomore quarterback Baylor Romney runs the ball during the game against South Florida at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2021. (Harold Mitchell, Special to the Daily Herald)


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