PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – Thursday was supposed to be when the big Utah-BYU rivalry game at Rice-Eccles Stadium was going to be played. But COVID-19 changed everything.
Instead, the Cougars are gearing up for their season opener on Monday against Navy.
After an off-season of uncertainty, BYU has never been more thankful just to be able to play.
“I think a lot of guys are just excited that we get to play,” said defensive back Troy Warner. “Being one of the only teams out West that are actually playing right now. I think it’s a privilege to be playing.”
“It’s been crazy,” said offensive lineman Clark Barrington. “There’s been lots of emotions along the way. But our staff, our coaches, our players have done a really good job to have a positive outlook on things and ingrained into our minds that we knew it was going to happen.”
“It’s been honestly like a roller coaster,” said linebacker Zayne Anderson. “For a while there, it was day by day, conferences were closing. If you weren’t in a conference, you weren’t going to play. So it’s kind of been a roller coaster. But I think we’ve all kind of grown, and it’s a huge opportunity. We’re one of the only schools in the West that is playing, and a lot of eyes are on us.”
As the unofficial kickoff to the college football season, millions of people will be watching on ESPN Monday night, but there won’t be anybody in the stands. Won’t that be a little strange?
“No, we’re just going to play,” said head coach Kalani Sitake. “That’s never been a factor to us to look and see how many fans are in the stands.”
“Even though we’re probably going to have tons of people watching our games, it’s not going to feel like that,” said Zach Wilson, who was named the starting quarterback on Monday. “We’re playing against Navy and the stadium is going to be empty. It’s probably going to be feeling like a scrimmage. That’s really the time you just dial in. You don’t worry about that other stuff.”
This is a really good Navy team that was 11-2 last year. In fact, this may be the best team BYU faces all season.
“They finished ranked last year and won a lot of games,” said Sitake. “They’re an efficient team. They control the ball and make a lot of big time plays. That’s not just on offense, that’s on defense as well.”
“They are a really, really, really good defense,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “They were 16th in the nation in total defense, and they play in a league where teams score points.”
BYU and Navy will kick off at 6:00 p.m. mountain time Monday night.