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Cougars' 'backs against the wall' as they try to avoid losing season

PROVO — BYU has lost six consecutive games for the first time in 49 years.

Yes, the Cougars are desperate for a win — and if they lose again this weekend, they'll clinch their first losing regular season since 2004.

After getting hammered 35-10 at Mississippi State last Saturday, the 1-6 Cougars face another 1-6 opponent this week when they visit East Carolina.

The Pirates lost at nationally ranked and undefeated Central Florida 63-21 last Saturday.

Is this the week BYU finally ends its miserable losing streak?

“Our backs are against the wall now, definitely, if we didn’t feel it before,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “Guys are going to have to step up. We need to make plays. We have an East Coast travel next week and we have to be ready for East Carolina. Hopefully we can get things fixed and perform a lot better next week.”

The Cougars need to win their final six games in order to finish the regular season with a winning record. But they need to win one game first.

“These seniors want to go to a bowl game. We’ve got to win the next one,” Sitake said. “You don’t win them all until you win one. We’ve got to focus on getting a win next week. As coaches and players, and everybody involved, we’ve got to find ways. We have to be creative and find ways to score points on offense and keep drives alive. Same thing on defense, it’s stopping the run. You’re not going to win very many games with that kind of run output.”

BYU hasn’t won a game since August. Its lone victory came against an FCS opponent, Portland State (0-6), that is winless this season.

For the Cougars, there’s little margin for error. BYU’s streak of 12 consecutive bowl appearances is in major jeopardy.

This is the first time BYU has opened a season 1-6 since 1968. That year, the Cougars lost seven straight games and finished 2-8.

Quarterback Tanner Mangum put perspective on what’s at stake.

“Right now, our backs are up against the wall. We know we’ve got to go on a run right now. I think we’re up to the challenge,” he said. “We have to give it everything, give it our absolute all — all the heart, all the effort. We’ve got to come back Monday ready to go. We know we have a fight ahead of us. I’m excited about it and I think the guys are excited about it. There’s no other option other than going back to work and keep on fighting.”

BYU’s defense missed a bunch of tackles against MSU and allowed 546 yards of total offense, including 306 yards rushing. The Cougar offense missed blocks, dropped passes and turned the ball over twice. BYU finished with 176 yards of total offense.

“There were a lot of things that came close to clicking,” fullback Brayden El-Bakri said of the offense. “There were big opportunities that we missed whether by a lack of 1/11th of execution, or lack of time or lack of knowledge. It’s something that can be fixed, and I’m going to try and make it so that everybody knows what they’re doing this week because I can’t lose again.”

“We’ve got to be more consistent, especially on throws downfield,” said Mangum, who completed 16 of 26 passes for 145 yards with one touchdown and one interception. “We’ve got to build off the positives. We had some momentum at the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. We got one score on the board but we’ve got to be able to put up more.”

In the first half, a Dayan Ghanwoloku interception gave the Cougar offense the ball in Mississippi State territory. But BYU’s Ula Tolutau fumbled moments later.

“Any time you get a turnover, you should be able to capitalize and try to break free because the momentum swings in your direction,” El-Bakri said. “Not being able to capitalize on that often takes the sails out of the players, especially the defense. They want us to perform better than we are. We’re kind of letting them down.”

At the beginning of the season, it looked like BYU’s final six games would result in a bunch of wins.

Not anymore.

Here are the teams remaining on BYU’s schedule — East Carolina (1-6), San Jose State (1-7), Fresno State (4-2), UNLV (2-4), UMass (0-6), and Hawaii (3-4). That’s a combined record of 11-29.

Never mind winning six games in a row. At this point, the Cougars are just looking for one win.

BYU (1-6) at East Carolina (1-6)

Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT, Dowdy-Ficklin Stadium

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM