As BYU preps for Baylor, will Puka Nacua join Cougars at home?

BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua screams with emotion before the Cougars' season opener at South Florida, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 in Tampa, Florida. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)

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PROVO — By the time No. 25 BYU returned from South Florida after a 50-21 season-opening win over the Bulls, thoughts turned to the next big matchup in Saturday's home opener.

No. 10-ranked Baylor (1-0) comes to town to Saturday (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN) with the momentum of a 69-10 win over FCS Albany in Week 1, and the only FBS matchup featuring two Associated Press Top 25 teams is bound to be one of the top-billed games in the nation by the weekend.

But who will be there, especially from the Utah group?

Gunner Romney is coming off an injury that kept him out of the Cougars' opener in Tampa, and his status remains week-to-week, or even day-to-day, as he recovers, head coach Kalani Sitake said.

Fellow standout receiver Puka Nacua had a day Saturday, taking the opening play from scrimmage 75 yards on a jet sweep to spur the Cougars to a 28-0 lead after the first quarter. But Nacua, who finished with 98 total yards and two touchdowns, injured his ankle in the first half and spent the remainder of the game alternating between a walking boot and a heavy tape job with crutches.

Sitake remained non-committal about the star receiver's availability against Baylor, but said the Cougars will "probably know more later" as the team seeks additional tests Monday after practice. He also said following the game Saturday that x-rays at the stadium revealed came back clean, which seemed to come as Nacua rolled his ankle on a tackle in the second quarter.

"Right now, we can't count anyone out yet," Sitake said. "There are some guys who are questionable. We'll see what happens. I'll probably have more of an idea tomorrow."

Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick confirmed during his weekly appearance on the "Coordinators' Corner" coaches' show on BYUtv that the coach's timeline for additional tests, saying they'll know more by the time offensive players and assistant coaches meet with the media following Wednesday's practice. But what Nacua brings to the team is obvious, he added.

"He's the best jet-sweeper I've every coached," Roderick said. "He averaged 11 yards per jet sweep last year, and he's off to a pretty good start this year."

Both Nacua and Romney, the 6-foot-2 senior, were listed atop the Cougars' Week 2 depth chart at wide receiver released Monday. Few changes, in fact, were made on the two-deep released before the Week 1 contest. Most of the changes came on the offensive line.

Campbell Barrington will back up older brother Clark Barrington at left guard, while Connor Pay solidified the starting center job over Joe Tukuafu. Additionally, Harris LaChance held off Tukuafu for the No. 1 spot at right guard, while Kingsley Suamataia and Campbell Barrington are listed as co-starters at right tackle after Blake Freeland cinched up the top spot at left tackle.

As promised by position coach Darrell Funk during fall camp, the Cougars rotated as many as 8-10 players on the offensive line against South Florida, which suited Freeland just fine, he said during Monday's press briefing.

"I was proud of our group," Freeland said. "I thought we did well. All the dudes that were able to get in performed really well. There was no dropoff; I think it's good to have a lot of dudes who can play."

As for Romney, Roderick classified the senior wide out's potential availability as, at the very least, hopeful after missing the Week 1 game to recover from an offseason injury.

"I'm hopeful," Roderick said. "We thought he was close last week, so I'm really hopeful (against Baylor)."

BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) scores on a 75-yard touchdown during the first half of the team's NCAA football game against South Florida on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) scores on a 75-yard touchdown during the first half of the team's NCAA football game against South Florida on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (Photo: Jason Behnken, Associated Press)

New uniforms, who dis?

BYU released its uniform combination Monday for Saturday's contest with the Bears, and it's one most fans probably haven't seen before.

The Cougars will debut an all-royal blue combination Friday called "Royal Color Rush" that includes a royal helmet, jersey and pants with white trim. It also features a grey face mask, which has not been used with this particular combination previously.

BYU unveiled the new combination with an array of social media posts featuring Pepe Tanuvasa breaking through a wall of ice, or glass, or something digitally inspired. The debut drew rave reviews from fans.

"The helmet drip is real," former BYU defensive menace Bronson Kaufusi wrote on Instagram.

But it also left a few confused by the presentation.

"Who is running through glass?" wrote BYU tight end Isaac Rex, referring to Tanuvasa, in his usual dry, sarcastic tone.

Instagram user koreyjsmith responded, "That's what Masen Wake looks like running through a DB," to which Rex replied with, "Facts."

Nicest people, until you play them

Baylor coach Dave Aranda knows what he's getting into when he leads the 10th-ranked Bears into LaVell Edwards Stadium this week. The 45-year-old native of Kern County, California has spent time at Southern Utah, Hawaii and Utah State in his career, and he visited Provo as an assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at LSU from 2016-19.

His team also handed then-No. 19 BYU a 38-24 loss last October, when droves of BYU fans mixed with a sea of green and gold as the Bears welcomed the Big 12 newcomers to Central Texas with plenty of hospitality.

"They're great at welcoming you at the beginning of the game with a really friendly fanbase. But once you get in, it's packed and it gets loud," Aranda said during his weekly media briefing in Waco, Texas. "I think now that the games are later in the evening, that's a whole thing as well; you're in your hotel, just looking at the clock.

"There is a home-field advantage there. That's a storm we have to run into."

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