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There’s a reason Kalani Sitake is shouldering much of the blame for BYU’s shortcomings

Sitake and his staff have quickly taken responsibility for the team’s recent defeats. It’s a frank admission that has several purposes, not the least of which is to take pressure off his players

SHARE There’s a reason Kalani Sitake is shouldering much of the blame for BYU’s shortcomings

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and running backs coach AJ Steward react to a touchdown in the first half against South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019.

Robert W. Grover, For the Deseret News

PROVO — Kalani Sitake’s public strategy as a coach stuck out this week after a devastating road loss to South Florida.

It was a stinky loss. A crushing blow. A low point, losing to a team BYU was favored to defeat, needed to defeat. And now comes undefeated No. 14 Boise State, whose strengths are BYU’s weaknesses.

Facing a cloud of disappointment, working under fire, critics ratcheting up the move-on campaign voiced even before the first game of the season, there are many ways Sitake could have handled the third straight loss.

He chose personal accountability. 

It started in the interview room at South Florida.

He put the blame on himself. 

Earlier in his career, Sitake may have answered questions about losses with a lot of candor, with less emotional filter. He may have brought up injuries, the schedule, performance of a player or singled out a position coach or tried to describe an excuse.

But this week he’s made a crystal clear effort to take all public pressure off his players and place it on himself. And you can tell he’s asked his staff to do the same.

It’s a ploy his mentors likely advised him to do. Doing otherwise only brings more criticism when struggling.

“We have to do a better job of preparing these players, put them in a position to win, and that’s on me,” he said in Tampa.

“We need to be better as coaches. We weren’t getting bodies where we needed them to be,” Tuiaki said of USF’s success running the ball late in the game. 

Saying BYU got “outcoached,” Tuiaki said feels “really shameful about it. We’ve gotta be better coaches. That’s not us.”

USF just rambling at will over his defense?

“That’s on me as a play-caller. That’s on us as coaches. We need to do better as a staff,” Tuiaki repeated in his interview on BYUtv’s Coordinator’s Corner. “We are playing with soft edges and we have to have an answer for it.”

Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes lamented continued failures to score touchdowns in the red zone, failures to convert third-and-short situations and being outscored a combined 27-0 in the fourth quarters at Toledo and South Florida.

“We need to do a better job of preparing our team,” said Grimes. “Ultimately, it’s our responsibility to put these players in a position to score. If it were one thing, it would be easy to fix, but on a given play it is multiple positions and ultimately it’s our job as coaches to do a better job of preparing.”

Again, Sitake said, “I am hands-on with everything so anything not functioning well is my fault. That is how I look at it,” he said. “I am hands-on with the offense, defense and special teams. We are not performing well and that is on me.”

Special teams and assistant head coach Ed Lamb was asked Tuesday if there was a common denominator in run defense issues this season.

“The common denominator with our struggles with run defense has been too many yards,” said Lamb. “But it has not been the same play. Two games ago it was the quarterback that really hurt us. Then this last week the power and counter and pin pull running schemes really got the best of us. We didn’t coach it well enough and didn’t play it well enough.”

BYU’s struggles have been a slow drip from Game 1. Depth has been an issue. Playing the 11th toughest schedule in the country (Jeff Sagarin) has been an issue as have injuries to the best three players, including Zach Wilson and Ty’Son Williams.

But there have been myriad questionable play calls, schemes, lack of adjustments and getting caught without answers to Toledo’s surprise formations and USF’s unexpected deploy of two tight end power run sets.

So, yes, these issues are on the professional coaches.

But it doesn’t excuse individual responsibility or lack of preparation, focus, film study or pride in winning one-on-one battles by each player; stuff like key dropped passes at Toledo or a fumbled punt snap or a whiffed block that got Jaren Hall a concussion on a sack. Those are on the guys.

Taking self-blame is noble and the right thing to do. BYU’s players are in a position where they really need to bear down. Worrying about a cluster of criticism and finger-pointing is only clutter to mix in a big adversity pile that is growing.

I did like Sitake’s declaration he gave reporters on Monday.

Said the embattled leader:

“I know this is maybe hard for someone to understand. I love coaching football.

“If it was only about the good times, then it wouldn’t be as fun, right? Because I think there’s diversity in the times we can learn, build who you are, and build on tough times. That’s my whole life.

“We learn the most when things are going really hard. It means I look at this as a learning moment for me to get better as a person and definitely get better as coaches, to love my boys even more than I had before. These are great young men and I enjoy coaching them and I enjoy being around them. They’ve given us everything they’ve given and it’s important as coaches we give back to them in return.

“So, if there’s more to do as a head coach and leader, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that they get the best out of me.”

Question is, will his best be good enough to get BYU to a bowl game?