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BYU-Washington State game will be in national spotlight this weekend

Kalani Sitake is emphasizing fundamentals, technique and more physical play as his team prepares for game at Washington State, which will be playing without fired WSU head coach Nick Rolovich and four of his assistants

The Washington State Cougar logo is displayed on a gate at Martin Stadium, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. Head football coach Nick Rolovich and four of his assistants were fired on Monday for refusing a state mandate that all employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, making him the first major college coach to lose his job over vaccination status. The BYU Cougars travel to Pullman this weekend for an afternoon contest Saturday.
Ted S. Warren, Associated Press

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With Washington State firing coach Nick Rolovich and several assistants for refusing a state vaccine mandate, BYU comes to Pullman with not only a national spotlight on the game, but the visiting Cougars working to end a two-game losing streak.

This could go many ways; BYU can take advantage of the mess or it could galvanize Washington State players and inspire them. WSU is fresh off wins over Stanford, Oregon State and Cal.

Meanwhile, BYU coach Kalani Sitake is on a personal campaign to get his team to play more physical after two lackluster offensive and defensive line performances in losses to Boise State and Baylor.

Here is my commentary on BYU’s quest for more physicality.

Cougar Insiders predictions

Question of the week: How much of BYU’s lack of physical play against Boise State and Baylor was the opponent and how much was on BYU’s players, system, injuries, inexperience and youth? How can Kalani Sitake fix it?

Jay Drew: Remember when Kyle Whittingham said that never in his wildest dreams would he have believed that BYU would dominate Utah in the trenches as it did on Sept. 11? That performance from the Cougars seems like a long time ago, given how they have looked in the trenches the past two games. What happened? I am going to say the Boise State game was due to injuries and the Broncos being more fired up to play.

I am going to say in the Baylor game the Cougars were simply overmatched. Baylor played big-boy football, with Power Five talent. Sure, the Cougars were down a couple of guys on both sides of the line, but I don’t think OLs Harris LaChance and Joe Tukuafu or DL Lorenzo Fauatea would have made that much of a difference. Baylor was simply bigger, deeper and better.

Sitake took some steps toward fixing the problem on Monday, basically calling out both lines and saying both have to get tougher. Is it too late? Maybe. But I expect much better play moving forward, beginning with Saturday’s game at Washington State.

Prediction: BYU 31, Washington State 21

Dick Harmon: Certainly BYU misses the strength and acumen of linebacker Keenan Pili, who was injured early in the season, and now we are seeing freshman and sophomores starting on both sides of the line. But Sitake’s brand is to be a physical football team and lay the wood on opponents. That hasn’t happened the past two weeks, and I believe he is very upset about it.

Question is, what can he do?

The issue was further complicated when we saw three defensive linemen (Earl Tuioti-Mariner, Gabe Summers and Jacob Palu) go down at Baylor. It’s not clear who will play Saturday at Washington State, or if one of the injuries is a season-ender. It will be huge to get Joe Tukuafu and Harris LaChance back on the O-line.

The most intriguing thing this Saturday is to see what motivational spear Sitake will use to get his team back in a physical mindset in Pullman. It will be a tremendous challenge emotionally, mentally and putting actual skin in the game. The way to gauge it is if Tyler Allgeier suddenly begins running free again and if the defensive front can blow up WSU’s passing game in either coverage or pressure. I think Allgeier breaks out on Saturday.

Prediction: BYU 37, Washington State 31

Cougar tales

The BYU loss at Baylor was a wake-up call for BYU’s football team. A turnover-filled loss to Boise State is one thing, but at Baylor the Bears simply manhandled the Cougars in the trenches. Here is a list stories of our coverage from Waco:

  • Baylor showed BYU has a lot to work on (Jay Drew)
  • Baylor played “Bully Ball” against the Cougars (Dick Harmon)
  • Cougars rue surprise onsides kick by Baylor (Jay Drew)
  • BYU leaves Big 12 territory looking for answers (Jay Drew)

In basketball, Mark Pope will unveil his 2021-22 team during Midnight Madness on Friday, Oct. 22, in the Marriott Center. Doors will open at 10:15 p.m. The Cougars received votes in the first Associated Press poll. Here is a story by Jeff Call on where the Cougars are heading toward Big 12 membership.

From the archives

From the Twitterverse

Extra points

Fanalyst

Comments from Deseret News readers

“They do need a bye week and they should have had one before the Boise game. Overrated Tom Holmoe should have known that when he put this schedule together.

“He talks about how BYU needs to act like a P5 program, well, it starts with him. He needs to create a P5 program and part of that is being smart enough to know that you cannot play anybody, anytime. Successful programs are smarter with their scheduling.”

— visitante

“BYU will face a highly motivated team this week that wants to win one for ‘The Nicker.’ WSU will not roll over — that was done by ASU in SLC.”

— 65TossPowerTrap

Up next

Oct. 20 | 9 a.m. | Soccer | vs. San Francisco | @San Francisco

Oct. 20-23 | TBA | Men’s golf | Stockton Invitational | @Stockton, California

Oct. 22 | 11 p.m. | Basketball | Midnight Madness | @Provo

Oct. 22 | 7 p.m. | Women’s volleyball | vs. San Diego | @Provo

Oct. 23 | 11 a.m. | Men’s swimming | vs. Dixie State | @Provo

Oct. 23 | 1:30 p.m. | Football | vs. Washington State | @Pullman, Washington