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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
BYU defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku returns a fumble for touchdown against California in Provo on Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018.

PROVO — BYU’s defense has been down a pair of key starters the past few games — linebacker Zayne Anderson and safety Dayan Ghanwoloku.

While coach Kalani Sitake is hopeful that they’ll both be back Friday when the Cougars host Utah State — the Aggies are averaging more than 50 points a game — they have left a big void for the defense.

Ghanwoloku, who scored on a 36-yard fumble recovery in a 21-18 loss at home to California on Sept. 8, missed most of the Wisconsin game due to injury.

“He’s really good. You’ve seen that the last few years. He can make plays happen,” safety Austin Lee said of Ghanwoloku. “He’s a very high-energy guy. He’s smart and he’s in the right places at the right time.

"You’ve seen him be a big-time factor. I hope he’ll be ready. Talking to him, he sounds pretty positive. I’m excited for him and his success because we need him. He’s a great player.”

Meanwhile, with Anderson sidelined, senior Matt Hadley started seeing action at linebacker. Hadley had been playing running back this season, although he has played both linebacker and safety in previous seasons.

As for Hadley’s switch back to defense, Sitake said, “He’ll probably be more defense than offense. I know they can use him on offense, but we have a need for him and experience on the defensive side. He’s a good playmaker. He’ll get more plays on the defensive side. We saw that as a move that will benefit him more than anything. We just like to get our best guys on the field somehow.”

Despite missing the past two games, Anderson is No. 2 on the team in total tackles with 28. He’s also recorded one tackle-for-loss, one interception and one pass breakup.

BYE WEEK, SHORT WEEK: While BYU is coming off a 35-7 trouncing at the hands of No. 10 Washington last Saturday, Utah State is coming off a bye week.

The two teams are meeting Friday night, meaning there's one less day of preparation.

Sitake acknowledged that USU will “probably be more rested than we will be,” but added that too much is made of teams coming off a bye.

The Aggies are 6-0 under coach Matt Wells following a bye week.

The Cougars are actually looking forward to the shorter week.

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“It is a day earlier. You do have less time. But football is fun,” Lee said. “We talk about how football is fun. It’s fun to hurry, and we’re excited to play again.”

TOUGH SCHEDULE: BYU has played the fifth-toughest schedule in the country, according to the latest Sagarin ratings. Only South Carolina (2-2), USC (3-2), UCLA (0-4) and Iowa State (1-3) have played tougher schedules than the Cougars.

BYU lost to California (3-1) and Washington (4-1) and has beaten No. 16 Wisconsin (3-1), Arizona (2-3) and McNeese State (4-1).