BYU will head to Los Angeles on Thanksgiving weekend for the season finale with USC. There is still talk that the Trojans might be looking at head coach Kalani Sitake for their head coaching vacancy.
Sitake will do so with a 20-4 record the past two seasons and a 9-2 record this year after Saturday’s win over a Sun Belt team, packing a 4-0 record over the Pac-12.
He could polish all that up if the Cougars climb to No. 13 or higher in the next CFP and Associated Press poll this week.
But first things first. The Cougars are licking a lot of wounds after a 17-point win on Saturday clear across the country.
The next opponent, USC, got generally killed 62-33 by crosstown rival UCLA.
This is an interesting upcoming matchup with the Cougars still emotionally plugged in and USC trying to finish the season with pride.
Before kickoff Saturday, the school announced to BYUtv that BYU’s best defensive player, linebacker Payton Wilgar, is out for the season with a shoulder surgery. This after losing the previous best defender Keenan Pili for the season in September.
Sitake refused to chase style points late in the fourth quarter of a convincing win over Georgia Southern on Saturday.
He had his guys work toward a set of kneel-down plays with nearly eight minutes left in the game.
In other words, he spent half the final quarter trying not to embarrass his opponent.
Noble? Classy? A sportsmanlike attitude?
Call it Sitake’s way.
His team could have scored at least twice in the final eight minutes but a 17-point margin was enough.
If it hurts the Cougars with some voters? Well, that’s their problem. Sitake isn’t going to let it change his approach in a lopsided game headed for a blowout.
But BYU shouldn’t play a game like this again on the road late in the season. From a lot of smack talk to Puka Nacua coming to the rescue of his older brother Samson after a hit after play — resulting in a penalty — this was an unnecessary event.
The Cougars were pelted by burritos by the home crowd and there was a lot of extracurricular activity going on before and during the game.
“I think we had to kind of regain our composure,” said Sitake afterward. “There was a lot of stuff going on.
“We were getting hit by burritos on the sideline. It was pretty hostile, but I’m just proud of the way the guys bounced back and made some adjustments.”
BYU’s defense and offense exploded for huge plays in the second half to dispatch the Eagles easily in the end.
A huge part of Saturday’s success was a pair of interceptions by transfer defensive back Jakob Robinson.
He scooped up one pass to kill a Georgia Southern drive and made a leaping, twisting high point catch along the sidelines to thwart another.
Both those plays were set up by BYU’s defense, which forced the Eagles to throw the ball — something their option team is not eager to do. And that became necessary after the Cougar offense outscored the home team 14-0 in the final 30 minutes of play.
BYU went a lot of miles to get its 34-17 win over Georgia Southern in a game where they were heavily favored.
As one would expect, this excursion across the country into Sun Belt Conference territory got a little sloppy at times.
BYU could have looked more polished converting third downs in the first half (0 for 4) and losing time of possession 19:21 to 10:39.
BYU’s tight end targets were almost ignored as BYU decided to attack Georgia Southern’s defense with Tyler Allgeier (25 carries for 136 yards), and deep balls to Puka Nacua (five catches for 83 yards, two TDs), Samson Nacua (three catches for 68 yards), Gunner Romney (five catches for 87 yards) and Keanu Hill (two catches for 65 yards).
Apparently offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick saw a big weakness in Georgia Southern’s secondary and wanted to pin a marker there all game long.
The game got chippy — kind of Coastal Carolina style — with Eagle players Dillon Springer and Justin Ellis starting a fight while the Cougars were just kneeling at the end of the game to kill the clock.
Combine that incident with what happened a year ago at Coastal Carolina, there may not be much value in playing Sun Belt teams in the future as BYU heads from independence to the Big 12.
It was either Springer or Ellis who put a hand on BYU guard Joe Tukuafu’s faceguard and ripped off his helmet — after a kneel play in victory formation.
Who does that?
Independence called for BYU to make this trip to Georgia. Once in the Big 12, these late-season trips are expected to be a part of history.
No. 1 Georgia played Charleston Southern, ranked Texas A&M played Prairie View and Mississippi State fiddled with Tennessee State.
All were at home,
BYU and No. 10 Wake Forest (at Clemson) were the only Top 20 teams to play on the road this past weekend. Everyone else just had to roll out of bed and play.
Sitake’s offense and defense will need to be far more polished next week in the Coliseum.
But a win is a win is a win on this day.