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Pair Of Injured BYU Football Standouts Are ‘Highly Unlikely’ To Play Against USC

Nov 23, 2021, 12:30 AM

BYU Football - Neil Pau'u...

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 04: Wide receiver Neil Pau'u #2 of the Brigham Young Cougars stiff-arms cornerback Isaiah Rutherford #2 of the Arizona Wildcats to score a touchdown on a 6-yard pass play during the Good Sam Vegas Kickoff Classic at Allegiant Stadium on September 4, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Cougars defeated the Wildcats 24-16. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah –  When No. 14 BYU Football travels to Los Angeles, they will probably be without two of their offensive stars.

Fifth-year juniors James Empey and Neil Pau’u are not expected to play against the reeling 4-6 USC Trojans.

“Neil’s still highly unlikely that he’s going to play in this game and the same with James [Empey],” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake.

Pau’u, one of BYU’s top wide receivers this season, suffered his injury on a touchdown grab against FCS foe Idaho State earlier this month. An Anaheim, California native, this week’s game is an opportunity for him to play in front of the hometown fans. But it appears he won’t get that chance.

Center James Empey went down during the Cougars 21-19 against the Crimson Cougars of Washington State in Pullman last month.

Those two injuries paired with the season-ending shoulder surgery to BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar show Sitake’s squad is digging into their depth.

“I’m hoping still for some others that are still in the mix. So we’ve had to shift around some pieces,” said Sitake. “…But we’re going to go into this game ready to play and some young guys some other guys will have opportunities to step up, and I’m looking forward to seeing them do that.”

BYU Football hoping to get some injured players back

Some of those others include offensive tackles Campbell Barrington and Harris LaChance. Both are listed as -ORs- on this week’s depth chart. Sitake has said in the past that if a player is on the depth chart at the beginning of the week, they are not entirely ruled out of possibly playing the upcoming Saturday.

Neither of those two players participated in the win at Georgia Southern. Instead, sophomore Brayden Keim, a former walk-on tight end out of Alta High School, got his first career start and played well.

In replace of Pau’u at wide receiver was a combination of Samson Nacua and Keanu Hill. The two pass-catchers combined for five grabs and 133 yards in the hostile win down in the Sun Belt. Sitake, when asked in the BYU Sports Network postgame (heard on KSL NewsRadio) to draw a comparison to Hill, he brought up BYU’s all-time leading receiver in Cody Hoffman.

At center, Connor Pay has emerged as a star in replace of the injured Empey.

No. 14 BYU at USC kicks off at 8:30 p.m. (MT) on ESPN and KSL NewsRadio. With a win, BYU would secure a 10-win regular season for the second consecutive year.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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Pair Of Injured BYU Football Standouts Are ‘Highly Unlikely’ To Play Against USC