PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Sports) – All the excitement from its 3-0 start and #15 national ranking was tempered a bit on Monday, when news broke that linebacker Keenan Pili was lost for the rest of the season with a knee injury.
Pili, BYU’s leading tackler through three games, tore his ACL midway through the third quarter, and will need to have season-ending surgery.
“We’re sad to lose Keenan, but he wants us to move on,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “His role will change, but we’re still going to need him as a leader. He’s a captain, so we’re going to need him leading our team still. We’re going to rely on some of the depth at linebacker to step up.”
“He was playing so well,” added defensive back D’Angelo Mandell. “I know how important the season was to him. Obviously we’re going to have to adjust, do things we need to do and guys are going to step up. But honestly, I’m just more worried about Keenan because an injury like that is tough.”
Pili, a former Timpview High star, had 31 tackles through three games, including a career-high 17 tackles against Arizona in the season opener. BYU will count on redshirt freshman Ben Bywater to step in Pili’s place. Bywater had ten tackles against Arizona.
Josh Wilson, Zach Wilson’s brother, should also see more playing time alongside starters Payton Wilgar and Max Tooley.
“I have a lot of confidence in [linebackers coach] Kevin Clune and the young men in that room,” Sitake said. “Keenan does as well. I had a great conversation with him, so his role will change, but he will have a great influence on our program.”
The good news is quarterback Jaren Hall just had the wind knocked out of him, and he’ll be ready to play against South Florida. But people are still talking about the punch heard round Provo, Tyler Allgeier tracking down an interception, forcing a fumble that Hall recovered, saving the game.
“That play definitely describes Tyler and Jaren and the people that they are,” said tight end Dallin Holker. “This team is a brotherhood and we want to win together. So when you see our teammates chase down that linebacker like Tyler did, it just shows the love we have for each other and how badly we want to win.”
Even though BYU is a 23-point favorite against South Florida, they remember the game two years ago in which the Bulls staged a fourth quarter comeback to win 27-23.
“A lot of the same players on our team and theirs,” Sitake said. “So, there are definite memories of that game.”
“They’ve got athletes, and they’ve got dudes that play hard,” Mandell said. “They’re going to come at us with everything they’ve got, so we better come prepared and ready to play.”
BYU and South Florida will kick off at 8:15 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday night.