BYU coach Kalani Sitake likes the sound of this — about 6,000 screaming Cougars fans will be allowed back inside LaVell Edwards Stadium.
On Saturday, the noise level will definitely be turned up when No. 12 BYU faces Texas State as spectators will be permitted into the iconic Provo, Utah, stadium for the first time all season.
The Cougars (5-0) haven’t been allowed to have fans in the stands in their previous three home games due to the state of Utah’s COVID-19 risk designation. But the status recently changed.
From zero to 6,000 will feel almost like a capacity crowd of 63,470.
“They know what we’re demanding from them,” Sitake said. “There’s a lot of men, women and children in that group of 6,000 that are going to make enough noise for the rest. The others that can’t be in the stadium are going to count on them doing it. If they don’t, they’re going to hear about it. A lot of pressure on those guys.”
The pressure on the Cougars will be trying to start 6-0 for the first time since 2008. They insist their attention is entirely on Texas State (1-5) even after a big win at Houston last week.
They know all too well what happens if they don’t focus.
“We’ve seen in years past, where we win big games and lose games we shouldn’t lose,” said BYU safety/linebacker Zayne Anderson, whose team is a 28 1/2-point favorite. “It comes down to focusing on each game and really locking into every game and taking every game really serious. This is a really good Texas State team. They’ve got a really good offense and they’re really capable. That’s where our focus is now.”
Texas State has 50 new players this season, including 21 on defense, 25 on offense and four specialists.
Make no mistake: The youthful Bobcats are feisty as they play their fifth straight road game. They took UTSA to double-overtime before falling 51-48 (BYU beat UTSA 27-20) and lost at Boston College 24-21.
“There’s a lot of optimism with us,” said Texas State head coach Jake Spavital, who at 35 is one of the youngest FBS coaches. “We’re competing and we’re in position at the end of every single game where we have a chance to actually win it. We have to keep showing up to work. We have to keep pressing forward and learning and growing and maturing and getting that valuable game experience.
“If we keep playing with the effort and intensity we normally play with and start to learn to minimize our mistakes, the ball’s going to bounce our way soon.”
The numbers do a lot of the talking for BYU QB Zach Wilson. He’s first in the nation in completion percentage (78.7), third in yards passing (1,641), sixth in yards per passing completion (15.34) and seventh in passing TDs (12).
No wonder he’s in the running for the Heisman Trophy.
“Their quarterback is phenomenal,” Spavital said. “I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of good quarterbacks over the years and this kid is an elite kid.”
BYU has recorded an FBS-best 100 plays that have gone for 10 or more yards. That’s ahead of Clemson (96) along with Duke and SMU (92).
Wilson also heads the FBS list with 66 passing plays of 10 yards or more.
This is how serious the Cougars are taking their COVID-19 restrictions: A former teammate got married recently and none of them attended.
They wanted to, of course, but it was necessary to help keep the virus out of the football program. The Cougars had a game at Army postponed earlier this season because of a cluster of cases.
“Those are tough things. You can’t go see your boys get married or family members get married,” Anderson said. “I think it carries onto the field, our sacrifices. It makes football a little more important in our lives if we’re sacrificing things for it.”
For now, about 6,000 fans are being allowed into LaVell Edwards Stadium. But in accordance with the state of Utah’s new health guidance levels, even more fans might be permitted at future home game against Western Kentucky, San Diego State and North Alabama.
“We’re happy to have fans,” BYU defensive back Chris Wilcox said. “Better than having zero, for sure.”
This will be the Bobcats’ first game against a ranked team since Nov. 23, 2019, when they fell 35-13 to No. 24 Appalachian State. It will be the ninth game where Texas State has faced a nationally ranked FBS squad.
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