TAMPA — Everyone in college football knows that injuries are part of the game and that every player has to be ready.
But it’s tough to ignore when many top players are hurt, like the BYU football team is dealing with now.
Consider these examples:
It started in the offseason, when the Cougars ended up losing tight end Hank Tuipulotu, safety Troy Warner and cornerback Chris Wilcox.
Since the season began, BYU has seen running back Ty’Son Williams, linebacker Zayne Anderson and quarterback Zach Wilson have gone down — and the training staff just keeps getting busier.
Offensive linemen Tristan Hoge and Kieffer Longson didn’t make the trip to Tampa, while cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku was there but didn’t play in the 27-23 Cougar loss to South Florida on Saturday.
BYU suffered even more injuries when facing the Bulls as quarterback Jaren Hall, wide receiver Talon Shumway and offensive linemen Keanu Saleapaga and Thomas Shoaf all leaving the field in pain.
“My heart goes out to them first and foremost because they put in so much work,” Cougar sophomore running back Lopini Katoa said Saturday after the disappointing defeat. “It sucks to see. But I feel like it gives us more motivation to step up and get the job done. We don’t want the team to skip a beat. When I saw Ty’Son go down, I know I had to step up. The biggest thing is having confidence. You have the next-man-up mentality and need to gain that confidence.”
With BYU stumbling to a 2-4 record with three straight losses at the halfway point of the 2019 regular season, the limited number of proven playmakers that the Cougars can put on the field is a concern.
“We talked about depth during the entire offseason and so we’re going to test the depth,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “We’ve had to test it all year long. The game of football is really physical and guys get hurt. We think we’ve done a good job developing the young guys, developing our depth and now we are going to test a lot more than we really anticipated.”
The most obvious question mark is at quarterback, where the status of Hall was uncertain after the game. That means the Cougars might start their third-string QB, freshman Baylor Romney.
“We’ll see how Jaren goes but if it is Baylor’s turn, we’ll see Baylor on the field,” Sitake said. “We’ve got another quarterback in Joe Critchlow who had played as well. We’ve got some guys who may be questionable for next week, so the other guys need to step up.”
BYU has put a lot of players on the field in the first six weeks of the season, either by design in the rotation or because of the guys going down. The Cougars said they worked on individual and team development during the bye week as well.
“The bye week wasn’t a week off for us,” Katoa said. “We fought hard and competed. We went No. 1s against No. 1s, so we simulated intense competition scenarios. We got better during the bye week.”
He explained that he doesn’t believe in looking backwards but is determined to push himself to improve after the tough losses.
“To me, this lights a fire inside,” Katoa said. “Monday is when the game is in the past — but it’s still there. I’m going to practice harder and do the little things better this week so I don’t have the same issues next week. I know all the team feels the same way.”