A week ago BYU football coach Kalani Sitake was up to his hips with four-straight losses. After Friday night, the mire that he’s trying to pull his herd of oxen out of became chest high.
Boise State’s 24-7 win over BYU handed the Cougars their fifth-straight loss. That hasn’t happened at BYU in 47 years.
Sitake told reporters after the latest loss that he can’t keep saying the same thing in that press room because it’s sounding like a broken record.
Just how historic is this losing streak, one equal to that of the 1970 season?
Well, the students in the stands Friday night were not even born the last time it happened. In fact, their parents had probably not even met or dated. BYU’s President Kevin J. Worthen was 14.
In 1970, Tommy Hudsbeth’s squad lost to Western Michigan, UTEP, San Diego State, Arizona and Arizona State before defeating Utah State — a five-game skid. But that was in the day BYU was not used to winning.
This is why Sitake, blinking his eyes on the sidelines in the fourth quarter, is so frustrated. He knows the history and has been a part of it.
What was it like in 1970? it was the year the Beatles broke up. It was the year Richard Nixon ordered an invasion of Cambodia, Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo, boxer Sonny Liston and Green Bay Packer legend Vince Lombardi died. It was the year Billy Casper won the U.S. Open and Johnny Miller emerged. It was the year I took what’s her name to the Junior Prom and had to bum a ride because I lost my driver’s license for reckless driving in the Provo High parking lot, laying down a patch of rubber driving my brother’s GTO.
Folks, that is historic.
BYU football overcame those days. LaVell Edwards catapulted the brand to the top echelons with explosive offenses and All-American quarterbacks who are now in the collegiate and NFL halls of fame.
But this is another time. This is a time when 70 percent of BYU’s roster is comprised of guys wearing helmets and riding bikes with backpacks in domestic and foreign lands for two years—an interruption of football. It’s a time scared freshmen are asked to be stars.
This is a time where excuses like inexperience and injuries are deployed; a time of changing schemes on the fly while playing LSU, Wisconsin, Utah and Boise State.
This is an era in which BYU quarterbacks have faced physical issues, starting with Riley Nelson (broken back, ribs) and Taysom Hill (knee injuries, Lisfranc foot fracture, broken elbow) and then Tanner Mangum (hamstring, high ankle sprain) and Beau Hoge (concussion). It is a position so crucial, yet so fragile. Max Hall was the last quarterback who enjoyed a healthy presence in the huddle and on the sideline. Even old Max played injured but he still went down as the winningest quarterback in school history.
On Hall’s BYU squads, he was vocal and passionate. His receivers like Dennis Pitta and Austin Collie would be visibly angry at failures and protested loudly when they didn’t get the ball when open.
Didn’t see much of that Friday night, a passionate hatred of failure. An almost gasket blowing fit over a stalled drive.
People want to play expert and single out Sitake, blame Ty Detmer, question other coaches, blame players, second-guess play calls, game plans, practices and culture. Take your pick, everyone’s got their opinion, and all are worth about the same.
But in 45 years watching this program, I’d argue just one point. So much weight, whether it is right or wrong, for glory or disdain, for spirit or deflation, for energy or lack thereof, depends on the power, skill, force, playmaking and personality of alpha dog quarterbacks.
From Gary Sheide and Gifford Nielsen to Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, through Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer, Steve Sarkisian, Brandon Doman, and all the others through John Beck and Maximus Max, that’s been BYU’s silver bullet.
Without that silver bullet, BYU becomes average very fast. Since 1970, that tends to be the case. Of course, no one can do it without a supporting cast. But it’s a huge piece of the puzzle that cannot be easily dismissed.
On Friday, Tanner Mangum tried to make a comeback with three days practice time. He started out on fire, then faded.
He knows it.
Late into the night after the loss to Boise State, Mangum made it clear what the problem was. “It’s on us,” speaking of players who are still making serial mistakes.
Concluded Mangum: “A lot of it comes down to me being more accurate throwing it. One third down, where (Matt) Bushman was running inside and I threw behind him, another time I missed Beau Tanner on a curl. Those things extend drives and are what I look forward to improving upon.”
Mangum said he doesn’t question his coaches and what Detmer has tried to do since spring and summer.
“I believe in everything they’re doing. It comes down to us. It’s not the coaches' fault I’m throwing picks. It’s not the coaches' fault that we’re fumbling the ball or missing blocks and assignments. That’s on us. We know that. We know we can improve and get better. Regardless of what the coaches put us in, we believe in them and it’s up to us to execute. So I put that pressure and responsibility on myself and our struggles. It’s up to us to get back up, work and get this going.”
Next stop, SEC Country.
On Monday, somebody throw a chair.