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Searching for a win, BYU's focus at East Carolina should be one play at a time

Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald leaps over a BYU defender to score a touchdown during game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. The Cougars hope to end their six-game losing streak Saturday at East Carolina.
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald leaps over a BYU defender to score a touchdown during game in Starkville, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. The Cougars hope to end their six-game losing streak Saturday at East Carolina.
Jim Lytle, Associated Press

PROVO — It feels like a restart season for Kalani Sitake and BYU this week.

Folks are talking about BYU matching up better with East Carolina than with LSU, and with UMass better than Wisconsin, and with San Jose State than Mississippi State.

I talk to people who really, really want the Cougars to win Saturday in Greenville, North Carolina, to gain some confidence, get another win, and start to roll in the second half of the season. There’s talk of this team making a run to qualify for a bowl game by winning six games.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

That shouldn’t be the focus of this team today, tomorrow or before kickoff.

Say what?

The focus of Sitake’s team has to be narrower that winning Saturday at 1-6 East Carolina.

“Just one play, then another play,” Sitake said.

Every player that sees the field Saturday has a binary choice. Each player either wins a one-on-one battle across the line or he doesn’t. He has to win more than he loses. What’s it going to be?

Pick an offensive lineman, any of them. What’s his average grade performance this season? Is it 68 percent? Well, he’s got to improve that to 72 or 73 percent. It would be nice if he graded out at 85 percent, but since that hasn’t been happening, it's probably too much to expect in seven days. But going from 68 to 72 percent is doable and could make a huge difference.

Go down both sides of the offensive and defensive line, every guy, binary choice. Do assignments better, play harder, give more. If a guy is making two or three mistakes, cut it in half. Zero mess-ups would be golden, albeit unreasonable.

Same with every position. Receivers, backs, DBs, safeties, linebackers. Do your job, period.

On a third-and-one with a power run that simply failed at Mississippi State? Just get two yards and a first down. Missed tackles? Have one fewer than in Starkville.

On the sidelines, where just a few are trying to step up and energize each other? Double it, change it from two to four, then eight to 16. Or, here’s an idea, maybe every man should engage. No more funeral faces on TV.

Wins are built on tiny things. Like body language. And it begins at the top.

“After looking at the film, we saw breakdowns and technique problems more than anything,” Sitake told reporters this week after the loss to the latest SEC team.

Well, there are no more SEC teams on the horizon.

In this new season, grass-roots fundamentals should rule because there are guys filling in for starters and mastering the milk comes before enjoying the meat.

Sitake’s players and coaches have just finished stumbling through a dark cloud and they have a chance to step into some light. But it takes simple wins at a time that must be unrelated to a bigger goal of defeating East Carolina because if the little things are not fixed, the larger thing won’t happen.

This season has been a blur for the Cougars, six weeks of 23 injured players, QB musical chairs, beat-up guys, discouragement, embarrassments, expectations destroyed and hopes humbled.

The easiest thing in the world is to come out of that morass and give pep talks about going to Greenville and beating East Carolina, a team that has also tasted a lot of losing.

Nope, the discussion has to be about every player making a binary choice: To be better one play at a time or not; completing one drive, making one more stop, staying on the field as an offense and getting off it on defense. A bigger effort, one more positive result at a time. The coaches have described this act all season as 1/11, meaning one of the 11 making his own work count.

The switch is either on or off. Flip it on for one play, then get to the next.

That’s the only thing that matters, the next play, the one-on-one position battle on the following play, the assignment at hand, the minutiae of the job.

“It’s going to be a tough six games,” said freshman receiver Neil Pau'u, “but I think we can pull it off and rally six straight. I think that more offensive production will come this week.”

Only thing is, don’t think rallying for six straight. A global team endeavor is needed to make one play count. Then folks can talk about wins.

Football is basically an organized fight with some rules. You can’t deliver knockout punches unless you have the right technique, rhythm and confidence. You get confidence by winning one play, one move, one swing at a time.

And that hasn’t happened in seven games.