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Far too much in BYU’s loss to South Florida looked familiar

BYU’s loss extended the Cougar losing streak to three and so much of this loss in the state of Florida seemed like a replay of other losses and seasons.

BYU wide receiver Gunner Romney grabs a reception in double coverage in a game against USF at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019.
BYU wide receiver Gunner Romney grabs a reception in double coverage in a game against USF at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019.
Robert W. Grover, For the Deseret News

TAMPA, Fla. — What does a three-game losing streak look like for BYU?

It looked like watching a funeral procession as Cougar players left Raymond James Stadium field after outgaining South Florida, building up a modest lead and then failing to score and stop the Bulls from running the ball down their throats at the end.

It felt like a year since BYU beat Tennessee and Southern California in overtime.

It felt like every time BYU has played in Florida (eight times now) and got on the plane for home with a loss.

It felt like the football team was digressing, going backward, swimming and scratching for answers and solutions that just wouldn’t surface.

It felt exactly like the last loss at Toledo. In this one, linebacker Chaz Ah You once again got a turnover late, an interception, with the game on the line and BYU’s offense couldn’t do it justice.

The defense looked exactly like yielded real estate to Toledo’s run game but could not figure out how to stop two basic run plays the Bulls ran over and over again the entire second half and got everything they wanted, including nine-straight chunk yard running plays on the game-winning drive. A counter cut around the left end was a go-to play, a winner call without resistance at all whether against a three- or four-man BYU defensive front.

It looked like the Cougar quarterback scene in 1992 when Tom Young replaced Ryan Hancock (ACL) who replaced Steve Clements (shoulder) who replaced season starter, John Walsh (shoulder). On Saturday redshirt freshman Baylor Romney replaced redshirt freshman Jaren Hall who replaced season starter Zach Wilson.

It felt like 2017 when the Cougars started losing to teams everyone expected them to beat and it turned into an ugly, history-setting four-win season when the offensive coordinator, a BYU icon named Ty Detmer, was fired.

It felt like that.

And afterward, everyone was still looking for answers, solutions, adjustments, a scheme, playmakers and some cosmic solution on how to end drives with touchdowns instead of field goals.

In other words, it felt the same as games this season. And last. And the year before.

The Cougars amassed 439 yards in total offense, out-distancing USF’s 315, and gained two turnovers on a fumble recovery by Isaiah Kaufusi and interception by Ah You. But the team could not muster enough points out of all those numbers to get a win.

“We have very competitive guys in that locker room,” sophomore center James Empey said afterward. “You have a lot of guys who live for Saturdays and losses hurt. But we are going to bounce back even though everybody’s hurting right now.”

Kaufusi said the Cougars will begin preparation for Boise State looking for more solutions, be it personnel, scheme, fixing the famed 1-11 (everyone doing their own job), getting one or two guys to do their job. “I’m looking to myself and what I need to do to improve and so must everyone else, just look at themselves and do what the coaches are telling us to do.”

Lopini Katoa said his teammates, who are staring at a possible four-game skid with ranked Boise State coming to Provo next Saturday, are really hurting.

“Everybody’s hurting. And it should hurt. Because we know we are a great team. It wouldn’t hurt if we didn’t think we are as a team. We know we’re better than that, and so it hurts. We couldn’t ask for a better game than to get Boise State at home and play in front of our fans,” Katoa said.

The loss really put head coach Kalani Sitake in a pickle heading into a contract renewal situation. With losses at Toledo, who lost to one-win Bowling Green Saturday, and South Florida, these were games on the schedule many believed would be put in the bank against a tough September and potential 0-4 start. Now the Cougars are 2-4 and he is 22-23 in his first head coaching job.

“I told the players to use this as a great learning experience, a chance to improve and get better. I told them how much I love them and this is an opportunity to grow and get better,” Sitake said.

Katoa, who was part of a BYU strategy to run hard and be physical with USF, gained 73 yards on 11 carries and it all worked for a while until the Cougars got in scoring position, then there were just two touchdowns produced in the game.

“If we’d have finished our drives and done our jobs, we would have won. That’s the truth,” said Katoa.

It sounded like the post-game after the Toledo game.

It felt the same.

It looked like Bronco Mendenhall’s Virginia loss to Miami the night before here in Florida, but USF is no Miami. Virginia could run up yards, but couldn’t get touchdowns.

Check that, this one was far worse.