clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Shattering loss to Toledo exposes BYU as a fragile and inconsistent football team, threatens to derail a once-promising season

Cougars falter in all three phases, make some questionable coaching decisions in embarrassing setback at the aptly named Glass Bowl

A pass intended for Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) is broken up by Toledo Rockets defensive back Samuel Womack (19) during the first half of an NCAA football game at The Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
A pass intended for Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) is broken up by Toledo Rockets defensive back Samuel Womack (19) during the first half of an NCAA football game at The Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

TOLEDO, Ohio — It was somehow fitting that BYU’s maddening 28-21 loss to another team from the Mid-American Conference that it had no business losing to came at a stadium called the Glass Bowl, because coach Kalani Sitake has an incredibly fragile outfit on his hands right now.

And it feels like a season that was looking promising after that 30-27 win over No. 24 USC two weeks ago could suddenly shatter into pieces. The Cougars were made transparent in all three phases on an overcast, slightly rainy day on the shores of Lake Erie, exposed for what they have become in Sitake’s fourth year — a team that can somehow knock off Power Five opponents one week, then falter mightily the next.

Old-timers might remember the Utes doing that a lot under another coach as emotional as Sitake: Ron McBride. And look what happened to him.

“It’s an issue we have had — inconsistency on offense, defense and special teams,” Sitake said.

The coaching wasn’t that great, either, especially at the end, which we will get to in a minute.

This one is going to sting for quite some time — at least until the Cougars tee it up again in two weeks at South Florida, another average Group of Five team that will be salivating for a shot at a name-brand program without name-brand talent.

The Cougars will roll into Tampa, Florida, without much confidence, and without their sophomore quarterback with a penchant for making big plays, and absolutely devastating mistakes. Zach Wilson won the Tennessee game for BYU by finding Micah Simon late for that 64-yard pass play, but he could be fingered for losing this one by making an ill-advised throw to the middle of the field that Toledo’s Kahlil Robinson gladly snatched and returned to the 2 for the game-winning touchdown on the next play.

Wilson sustained a right thumb injury trying to tackle Robinson and “is probably going to be out for a little bit,” Sitake said. “How long that is, we still have to evaluate it some more and get more opinions on it and everything.”

More games like this one, and Sitake might be out as well. While the aforementioned wins enhanced the popular coach’s quest for a contract extension, this loss can only hurt his cause. That’s all there is to it.

There was plenty of disgust on the Cougars’ faces after they exited the field, and not just because they were asked to sing the school fight song to the couple thousand BYU fans in attendance. Then they had to awkwardly wait for Toledo to finish its at the other end of the field.

“I told (the team) that I am tired of losing,” said senior receiver Micah Simon, forgetting, perhaps, to add the part about coming up short against a team that better-funded BYU should be better than. “I am tired of this feeling and it is definitely a gut-check for us as a team. It is time for everybody to look in the mirror and self-reflect on how much you really care about this and how much effort you are going to put into the rest of the season to make sure you don’t have this feeling again.”

Maybe Sitake delivered a similar message, or will this upcoming bye week as the Cougars stew in their own frustration. But when asked what he said to his team after the embarrassing loss in which BYU could muster only 214 second-half yards against a defense that gave up almost 700 in the game last week to Colorado State’s backup quarterback, Sitake fell upon those same worn-out phrases he used after last year’s 7-6 loss to Northern Illinois and the disaster that was 2017.

“We just gotta go back to work,” he said. “I told them how much I love them and appreciated the effort they gave today, but we gotta get better. This is one of those things where the guys gave us everything they had. We gotta make good decisions as a coaching staff to make sure we are playing more consistently.”

One such step might be to cut down on the gambles, like the decision to be aggressive at the end of the game. Not to play Monday morning quarterback, but a more conservative approach was probably warranted when BYU took over at its 20-yard-line with 69 seconds remaining and three timeouts in its pocket when all it needed to escape Toledo intact was a field goal.

To be fair, Simon says it was the right call.

“I liked it,” he said. “The mindset was we were going to go score. We were going to be aggressive and go score and win the game.”

But the odds were bound to catch up to the Cougars, who easily could be 0-5 if not for last-second miracles against the Vols and Trojans. This time, Toledo was the team making the breaks for itself, just as Utah did in the opener. Washington was just simply better last week.

Sitake said he had his team ready to play, disputing an assertion that the Cougars came out flat and played uninspired football in their first matchup of the season against a non-Power Five team.

“The being flat thing, you can’t say that about the whole team,” he said. “Offense didn’t score enough points (two promising drives in the first half ended with missed field goals), and defense was doing well at the beginning. At halftime, we felt good about what we were doing defensively. We just couldn’t generate enough momentum as a team. The energy was there, the guys were playing hard. I don’t think that flat is the right word to use.”

Opponents have scored first in 29 of Sitake’s 44 games in Provo (he’s now 22-22), but progress is apparently being made. Toledo didn’t score on its opening possession like Utah, Tennessee, USC and Washington all did.

But the Rockets scored on their last, thanks to a defense making another big play against a mistake-prone BYU offense — leaving the Cougars with more questions than answers. And a coach with a shakier future than most everyone in Provo wants it to be.