PROVO — With BYU’s leading rusher, Ula Tolutau, not available Saturday against San Jose State, the Cougars were searching for running backs to make up the difference.
KJ Hall, Squally Canada, Austin Kafentzis, Rily Burt and Brayden El-Bakri did that and more on the way to a combined 266 yards rushing in a 41-20 win over San Jose State.
Hall ran 10 times for 112 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter. He also caught three passes for 44 yards.
All of that production came in the first half. Hall was sidelined during the second half due to an undisclosed injury. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound sophomore missed five games this season due to injury before returning last week at East Carolina.
“He has really good instincts. We’ve been missing that a lot in the running game. He’s able to see things and he’s a little bit more dynamic,” coach Kalani Sitake said of Hall. “He’s smaller but he sees things a little bit differently than the other running backs.”
“He’s amazing just with his instincts. He has a great feel. In the pass game he’s really good at finding the soft spot,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum. “He always tends to be right where I want him to be. He’s good at those check-downs and making plays. On that long run, he showed some good patience, waiting, waiting, and then, boom, hitting the hole and scoring on a big run for us. I love having him in there. He’s a good athlete, a good player. I’m hoping to get more out of him.”
Even Mangum ran against the Spartans — seven times for 30 yards.
Canada gained 44 yards on 10 carries while Kafentzis had 40 yards on two attempts. El-Bakri added 21 yards on three carries and Riley Burt picked up 21 yards on six carries.
Sitake declined to discuss Tolutau’s situation. The freshman running back was charged with marijuana possession earlier this week.
EL-BAKRI LOWERS THE BOOM: While El-Bakri is a fullback, he also plays on special teams. Early in the first quarter on kickoff coverage, El-Bakri leveled SJSU kick returner Rahshe Johnson, who fumbled. El-Bakri recovered the ball to set up a Cougar touchdown.
“Brayden El-Bakri was a big-time player for us early on. He’s a tough kid and he’s probably one of our better guys on special teams,” Sitake said. “He has a knack for making tackles and making big plays and he can run the ball a little bit, too. It’s good to utilize the fullback a little bit more.”
QUARTERBACK ROTATION: In the fourth quarter, Mangum was replaced by freshman Joe Critchlow, who completed 3 of 4 passes for 49 yards. His first completion went to tight end JJ Nwigwe, marking Nwigwe’s first career reception.
Backup quarterback Beau Hoge, who suffered an injury at Utah State on Sept. 29 and hasn’t played since, was available Saturday but didn’t play.
Sitake said because his team had the game in hand, he decided to give Hoge more time to recover.
“Another extra week would be beneficial for him,” Sitake said.
INJURY UPDATE: Hall’s status was not immediately known after Saturday’s game.
“It’s disappointing that KJ wasn’t able to come back and finish,” Sitake said.
The coach added that he’s concerned about linebackers Grant Jones and Fred Warner, who were also injured against SJSU.