With all the unfamiliar or unheralded names seeing action for the Cougars in recent weeks due to a rash of injuries, even the most ardent, die-hard Cougar fan probably had to dig into the deepest recesses of their brains to figure out who some of the players were lining up for BYU. I know for me when Algie Brown went down early against Nevada I had no idea who this shifty #26 was, and I don’t think I was the only one.
To help eliminate any confusion in further games, I’ve compiled a list of players who started the season on the sidelines, but are now seeing significant action.
After the transfers of Ammon Olsen and Billy Green, Christian Stewart was the de facto back-up quarterback for the Cougars going into the season. And this is no knock on Stewart, but many Cougar fans hoped they would only see him play at the end of blowouts.
Stewart was forced into action during the Utah State game when all-everything quarterback Taysom Hill injured his leg. After a rough start against the Aggies, where he threw three interceptions, Stewart has requited himself well in the last two games. He had a breakout performance against Nevada, throwing for 408 yards and four touchdowns in a 42–35 loss to the Wolfpack.
I would like to offer a formal apology to Nate Carter, who I continually referred to as Nick Carter during the Nevada game (I guess I have the Backstreet Boys on the brain or something). I won’t be making that mistake again after Nate Carter rushed for 87 yards on a healthy 12.7 yards per carry. My only complaint is that he didn’t get the ball more in the second half when the Cougar offense went stagnant, allowing Nevada to mount it’s comeback victory.
An injury to Craig Bills opened the door for Kai Nacua, who performed admirably in extended action against UCF. Nacua recorded seven tackles against the Knights and picked off Justin Holman at a critical juncture of the game, allowing the Cougars to extend the game into overtime.
Sione Takitaki is making the most of his second chance with the Cougars. Takitaki was dismissed from the team earlier in the season due to a violation of team rules, but was reinstated before the start of the season. After seeing limited action early in the season, Takitaki was forced into the game following the injury to Alani Fua. Takitaki rose to the occasion against UCF, where he notched two tackles for loss and forced a fumble that allowed BYU to stay within a touchdown of the Knights going into halftime.
Fred Warner was a highly touted recruit entering the season, with some comparing him to a Kyle Van Noy. Like Takitaki, Waner was pressed into action after the injury to Alani Fua. He had strong performances against Utah State and UCF where he combined for 11 tackles, including one tackle for loss.
Keanu Nelson, a wide receiver who transferred from Stanford for his senior season, was pressed into a more prominent role against Nevada as injuries continued to pile up among the receiving corps. Nelson stepped up, catching two passes including an eight-yard pass from Stewart that pulled the Cougars within a touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Wolfpack.
While it might be difficult for Cougar fans to swallow the losses that keep mounting, the valuable experience players like Warner, Takitaki and Nacua are gaining will pay dividends down the road. For my sanity though, I hope we can cash in those dividends this week against Boise State.