BYU posts another head-scratching loss, this time by getting just 3 points out of 416 yards
Cougars fell to 7-5, had their five-game winning streak snapped in 13-3 loss to San Diego State because they couldn’t capitalize on their many scoring opportunities
SAN DIEGO — The loss the wildly inconsistent BYU football team took at the hands of one of its long-lost rivals, San Diego State, on Saturday night looked a lot like what happened seven and eight weeks ago.
It also mirrored, in a way, a win seven years ago over the Aztecs in the Poinsettia Bowl. Only this time probable NFL all-pro linebacker Kyle Van Noy wasn’t there to save them.
Reverting back to how they played against Toledo and South Florida in those back-to-back losses that kept a good season from being a great one, the Cougars sputtered mightily in scoring territory and lost 13-3 to the stingy and inspired Aztecs on Senior Night in front of an announced crowd of 28,180 at San Diego County Credit Union Stadium.
“It’s really frustrating to lose a game like that,” said BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi.
Of course, he was speaking on behalf of the defense, which certainly did its part — aside from not producing a turnover against a redshirt freshman quarterback, Carson Baker, making his first career start.
As BYU’s Zach Wilson, the sophomore who was supposed to look like the veteran quarterback in this rivalry renewal, but wasn’t, said, “this one was on the offense.”
But don’t blame just the players, who somehow racked up 416 yards — a season-high against SDSU — but managed to score just three points, a 24-yard field goal by Skyler Southam in the first quarter before the Aztecs (9-3) put 13 unanswered points on the Cougars (7-5), who saw their five-game winning streak fizzle in America’s Finest City.
BYU’s offensive coaches must also share the blame; after several weeks of pounding patsies, the Cougars didn’t have the moxie to get the ball in the end zone against SDSU. And those trick plays that worked against BSU and USU and produced points vs. those other Mountain West teams, weren’t so magical this time.
“Tough loss,” said Sitake. “We didn’t anticipate that happening. We really weren’t able to put points on the board on offense. They made their kicks and we didn’t make ours. They caused turnovers and we didn’t, so that was the difference.”
As for Wilson’s uneven performance, Sitake said he never thought once about pulling the struggling starter, although Boise State-beater Baylor Romney and Utah State-beater Jaren Hall were there and ready to go. Hall didn’t dress, but he was healthy enough to play.
Looking like his surgically repaired throwing hand is not completely healed, Wilson fluttered some passes and was not accurate on others, particularly in the red zone. He also threw two costly interceptions, and was stripped on a flea-flicker play he said was “wide open” before SDSU’s Tariq Thompson caused him to fumble on a safety blitz.
Wilson finished 31 of 53 for 316 yards, but went without a touchdown pass after throwing four against UMass last week. But comparing UMass’ defense to SDSU’s is like comparing Provo’s winter weather to San Diego’s.
“None of us played well enough to win. I am disappointed in everyone, including myself.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake
“No, not really,” Sitake said of a possible QB change. “I think that’s something we always have to evaluate as we go throughout the postseason, but we moved the ball. We just gotta score points, and that’s … I really don’t care how we do it, we gotta put more points on the board and score more touchdowns, and make our field goal attempts.”
Wilson said his hand was fine. He said SDSU’s aggressive, attacking defense caused a lot of problems, and the Cougars were unable to make them pay.
“Every game is different, with different opponents,” Wilson said of the failure to finish drives with touchdowns. “This was a really good red-zone team. It is hard to have super long drives and not make mistakes, finish them. There is really nothing to stick your finger on besides missed opportunities, missed assignments.”
Both teams entered the game in the top 20 nationally in interceptions, but it was the Aztecs’ defensive backs who shined, often tipping away passes at the last second.
“I think one of the biggest problems was a lot of off-balance throws, a lot of small pockets,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t a comfortable situation, sitting in that pocket, so I gotta be able to make better throws off-platform. … A lot of balls got tipped.”
The Cougars blew their chance to take control in the first half, backfiring time and again when they reached scoring territory and finishing the half with just three points off their 187 yards.
It was eerily reminiscent of the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl when Van Noy singlehandedly beat SDSU from his linebacker position, accounting for two defensive scores. BYU’s offense was punchless then against the Rocky Long-coached Aztecs, and it was again in late November instead of just before Christmas.
“We threw the ball for a lot of yards tonight, but all I care about is winning,” Sitake said, when asked to assess Wilson’s performance. “None of us played well enough to win. I am disappointed in everyone, including myself.”
Kaufusi said the defense has to share the blame, even though it held the Aztecs to 269 yards, including just 97 rushing yards. The killer was a 25-yard touchdown strike from Baker to Daniel Bellinger with 13 seconds remaining in the first half.
“Too many missed assignments,” said BYU defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga. “We should have shut them out.”
San Diego State had just 66 yards of offense on its first six possessions, but its seventh was the charm, sending the home team into halftime with a 7-3 lead when it easily could have trailed by two touchdowns.
Baker made two great throws to Jesse Matthews on the eight-play, 70-yard drive that ended with a 27-yard field goal to give SDSU its final 13-3 margin. The product of nearby Helix High finished with a 153.1 passer rating, while Wilson’s was just 101.
So Long improved to 3-10 all-time as a head coach against BYU, will probably stop complaining about BYU’s age advantage — until SDSU comes to Provo next November — and got some payback for that 23-6 Cougars win seven years ago.
And BYU got a reminder as well — those scoring issues that plagued the Cougars and Wilson earlier this season are back. They have until the bowl game on Dec. 24 to figure them out.
“We had some really frustrating losses to South Florida and Toledo,” said Kaufusi. “And this one feels about the same.”