Snowy weather adjusts BYU football’s spring schedule, but QBs, defense on track
Mar 25, 2023, 3:34 PM | Updated: Mar 27, 2023, 11:00 am
(Photo: Courtesy of BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)
PROVO, Utah — With another round of snowy weather blanketing the Wasatch Front, Saturday’s previously scheduled scrimmage at LaVell Edwards Stadium looked a little bit differently than head football coach Kalani Sitake had originally planned.
The Cougars moved the workday roughly midway through spring practices back to the 20-year-old indoor practice facility, ran a few drills in scrimmage-like fashion, and tackled live ahead of next Friday’s spring showcase in conjunction with the now-annual alumni game.
But the biggest difference came before the players had strapped on the pads.
“We started with meetings at 7:40,” sophomore safety Talan Alfrey said. “I can’t remember a time that I’ve ever done football (activities) this early, but it wasn’t that bad. It was a good time to start.”
Maybe the Cougars are just getting ready for those potential noon central time kickoffs when they join the Big 12 this fall.
Regardless of the time or venue change, Sitake said he was pleased with the defense’s performance during live workouts, including forcing turnovers and causing disruption under new defensive coordinator Jay Hill. Alfrey, too, added that the defense likely won the day, while admitting that “I may be a little biased.”
Bias or not, at least one member of the offense would agree with him, though there were no points scored or stats accounted.
“I think defense got us today, if I’m going to be honest,” said veteran punt returner Hobbs Nyberg, who has been seeing more time at wide receiver with Kody Epps on the mend. “We didn’t look the sharpest on offense today.”
One offensive player who definitely stood out was quarterback Jake Retzlaff, the former California junior college standout who returned to 11-on-11 play after opening camp in recovery from an emergency tonsillectomy and nasal surgery to fix a deviated septum.
That’s no knock on Kedon Slovis, the graduate transfer from USC via Pitt who coaches still hold in pole position with starter-level reps, or any other backup quarterback. But Sitake said it was especially good to see Retzlaff back under center.
“I just like that he was able to do a lot more today, and run the 11-on-11 part, be in the huddle, and go through two-minute situations,” Sitake said. “We’ve seen what the other guys can do, too, and Cade Fennegan, Nick Billops and Ryder Burton have done some good things. But Jake hasn’t been completely healthy, and today he did the most. He’s got a really strong arm and this real presence about him that extends to the rest of the offense.”
The Cougars shut down quarterback-turned-running back Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters after the New Mexico Bowl Offensive MVP suffered a knee injury last week while carrying the ball. Coaches maintain that the injury isn’t severe and shouldn’t keep Maiava-Peters out of fall camp or the start of the season, and other sources have confirmed a short recovery timeline to the running back’s injury.
But cautious remains, especially as BYU players have been hitting and live tackling more in the spring than ever before under Sitake’s tenure.
“I like it a lot, actually,” Nyberg said. “It does enhance getting injured, but we’re making a big step into the Big 12, and we need to be ready. I think it’s good to get us ready for a game.”
The defense has more on its plate than simply tackling, though. At times, installing a new defense under Hill — who has said he wants an aggressive defense that doesn’t sit back and isn’t afraid to cause disruptions — can feel like drinking out of a firehose, especially for the defensive backfield where Hill is also serving as safeties coach, in addition to his role as associate head coach.
“As a safety, we have coach Hill in our room, and we’re benefitting a lot from him being in there and teaching us the whole defense,” Alfrey said. “We’re not just learning our position, and it’s been a benefit to understand the entirety of the defense.”
Hill wants the entire defense installed by the end of spring practices, a goal he said last week the Cougars were on track to hit. Sitake added the caveat that additional film-based installation will continue through the summer — but with BYU players providing the film to review during limited-contact hours with the coaching staff, and in their own assessments.
But the past week was a big step forward for the defense, Sitake said.
“We want to teach with our guys in our uniforms,” the eighth-year head coach added. “When we get it all done in spring, we’re going to be able to teach throughout the summer and go into fall camp with our guys doing it. He’s trying to feed them through a firehose, but that’s how it has to happen. Our guys are smart; they can take it.”
It’s a lot. But it’s also manageable — and necessary in the move to a new conference.
“It is kind of like drinking out of a firehose,” Alfrey said, “but we’re able to spend some extra time watching film on our own and pick it up.”