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Cougars enter Utah State game prep without tight end, on short week

By Sean Walker, | Posted - Oct. 1, 2018 at 10:42 p.m.

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PROVO — BYU football has one less day to prepare for in-state rival Utah State, which is coming off a bye week before Friday night’s 7 p.m. kickoff at LaVell Edwards Stadium (ESPN2, KSL Newsradio).

The Cougars (3-2) will also be down one more tight end.

Moroni Laulu-Pututau, who went down with a left knee injury in Saturday’s 35-7 loss at No. 10 Washington, confirmed the worst Sunday night via Twitter: He will have surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the 2018 season.

It’s the second season-ending surgery in as many years for Laulu-Pututau, a native of Hyrum who missed the 2017 season with a Lisfranc fracture.

“He really wanted this game, because he’s from there,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “It’s unfortunate. He’s had some really tough battles with injury, and I think we were starting to see him emerge as a receiver and a blocker. It’s always hard when a guy goes down.”

In Laulu-Pututau’s absence, sophomore Matt Bushman and freshman Dallin Holker will be tasked to carry more of the load at tight end. The duo were the only two tight ends listed on BYU’s Week 6 depth chart, but Sitake and assistant head coach Ed Lamb added that Hank Tuipulotu is also ready to return to the field. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound freshman from Fort Mill, South Carolina, recently returned from a two-year church mission, but Lamb said during his “Coordinator’s Corner” radio show that he’s bulked up his frame enough to potentially see playing time this year.

Laulu-Pututau also won’t go far from the program.

“His leadership will continue for our team,” Sitake said. “He’ll still be tuned in, but he just won’t be ready to play on the field.”

The former standout wide receiver has made an impression on Cougars in two years, despite limited playing time. Laulu-Pututau caught 14 passes for 120 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown from Aleva Hifo against Wisconsin as a redshirt junior.

But his impact in the locker room has been even bigger. Both Tanner Mangum and Talon Shumway referred to Laulu-Pututau as “a best friend” while speaking to the media Monday, and there’s rarely been a negative word spoken of the teammate in BYU circles.

“My heart hurts,” said Mangum, who also served as a missionary with Laulu-Pututau in Chile. “He’s worked so hard to get back, and it was so fun playing with him again. I could feel for him; those injuries aren’t fun. I feel really bad, but we are going to be there for him.

“He’s the type of guy that won’t let this derail him. He’ll be back stronger than ever, for sure.”

Hot offense

Utah State ranks among the top-10 nationally with 51.5 points per game, more than twice the scoring output of the BYU offense in 2018.

Blowout wins over New Mexico State (60-13) and FCS Tennessee Tech (73-12) help those numbers. But the Aggies (3-1) also ran past Air Force in a shootout, 42-32 to put BYU’s defense on notice.

“Utah State has put up big numbers, and they are very explosive,” safety Austin Lee said. “As a defense, we have to put ourselves in the right positions and trust the processor the schemes. We have to trust the coaches.

“I feel like when there is miscommunication, big plays can happen. We saw that against Washington.”

Photo: Wade Denniston, USU Athletics

Anderson, Ghanwoloku back

The BYU defense should get a boost from the return of linebacker Zayne Anderson (shoulder) and safety Dayan Ghanwoloku (ankle) from recent injuries. The pair did not make the trip to Washington while rehabbing, but Sitake is hopeful both will be back by Friday.

Anderson practiced briefly in the week leading up to the top-20 matchup with the Huskies, while Ghanwoloku has only recently returned to team sessions.

“He’s really good,” Lee said of Ghanolowku. “He can make plays happen, and he’s a very high-energy guy. He’s smart and you’ve seen him be a big-time factor. I think he’ll be ready. He sounds positive … and we need him. He’s a great player.”

In addition, Sitake said former linebacker-turned-running back Matt Hadley has moved back to linebacker. The fifth-year senior is listed behind Anderson and Riggs Powell at flash linebacker after playing on offense for the first month of the season.

“I think they’ll use him some on offense, but we have a need for him on the defensive side,” Sitake said of Hadley. “He’s a good playmaker, and I think he’ll get more plays on the defensive side.”

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