Over the course of a season, patterns emerge for football teams.

Right now, BYU is a middling program prone to painstakingly slow starts — that’s been going on for over a month.

The Cougars are also undisciplined or dealing with continuity issues in a few areas.

While BYU has a 4-2 record at the midseason mark, the “what if?” game surrounds the team after the Cougars’ 28-20 setback against Notre Dame.

That loss magnified problems surrounding the Cougars, who find themselves out of both major polls for the first time this season.

Will BYU be able to put it all together more complete games over the back half of the season, or is what the Cougars have shown so far in 2022 as good as it gets?

‘I have to take ownership’: BYU coach Kalani Sitake shoulders the blame after Cougars show stage-fright in loss to Notre Dame
Notre Dame enjoys BYU’s habitual slow start en route to 28-20 win

There’s time this season to turn things around and right the ship in those areas where inconsistency is plaguing the team.

BYU is favored by ESPN’s Football Power Index in each of its final six games, even with the programs like the SEC’s Arkansas and a resurgent Boise State team still on the schedule.

“We’re not playing the type of football that we want, so we’ve got to figure this out and play at our best in all three phases — just clicking and playing well together, playing complementary football,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said after the loss to Notre Dame.

Can this team do it? 

Here’s three things that stand in the way and need a remedy sooner than later with BYU hosting Arkansas on Saturday.  

BYU’s continuity and undisciplined issues aren’t going away

From penalties to kicking woes, there have been several recurring issues for the Cougars in recent weeks. 

That continued Saturday against Notre Dame.

This time, BYU — which entered the game as one of the nation’s most penalized teams — only had one penalty, a clear improvement in a sore area in recent weeks.

The Cougars, though, dealt with personnel issues.

Twice, the BYU coaches were forced to take a timeout when the team only had 10 players on the field.

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Another time, the Cougars were forced to take their lone penalty — a delay of game — when not enough players lined up for BYU’s first point-after attempt. After moving the attempt back 5 yards on the penalty, Justen Smith missed the extra point.

That missed point could have loomed large at the end of what ended up an 8-point loss, if BYU had driven for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter but been forced to go for two to tie the game.

Those kinds of coaching continuity issues have been lingering for some time and leaving the team in vulnerable positions, which is a bit perplexing considering the coaching staff has been together for a while.

“It’s Game 6, and we’re struggling to put 11 guys out there … we’ve got to figure it out. That’s all on coaching,” Sitake said.

There is no every-down, go-to playmaker on offense

Plain and simple, the BYU offense is missing a player like Tyler Allgeier, the Cougars’ go-to power back the past two seasons who could be counted on to make the necessary play in critical situations.

Jaren Hall has shown marked improvement as a passer and a leader this year, but Saturday’s performance — when Hall struggled to get the passing game on track — shows just how sorely the Cougars miss having another go-to playmaker outside the quarterback position.

Wide receivers like Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney were expected to be those kinds of playmakers, but they’ve been dealing with injuries and missing huge chunks of time. While both played Saturday, there was one combined reception between their six targets — an 8-yard Romney catch.

Nacua had one carry for 10 yards and was targeted on a couple passes in the second half that ended up as incompletions, prompting Sitake to share his frustration postgame about the team’s inability to get him touches.

And while young receivers like freshman Kody Epps, who had four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish, have been stepping up, it’s a bit early to expect them to take over those go-to roles in crucial moments.

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The running back position has been more perplexing. 

Cal transfer Chris Brooks — who has rushed for 380 yards and five touchdowns this year — has shown flashes of taking the lead back responsibilities, while also struggling at other times. 

Senior Lopini Katoa has made several big plays this year, including a 20-yard run on a third-and-18 against Notre Dame, but has never been the bell cow back during his tenure at BYU.

Miles Davis had a breakout game against Wyoming, but he was hurt Saturday.

It’s left the team with no clear answer at the position halfway through the season, a frustrating personnel situation to be answering in October.

One of the biggest plays in Saturday’s loss came with just under four minutes remaining and BYU driving down 28-20.

Katoa was given the carry on the critical fourth-and-1 situation at the Notre Dame 27, and he was stuffed for no gain. From there, the Fighting Irish ran out the clock.

“We got to get the first down. The coaches have to critique themselves and see what’s the best play for us,” Sitake said. “We even took a timeout so we could think about it and disheartening we weren’t able to get that.”

On that drive, BYU followed up a 27-yard pass to Epps that got the team into Notre Dame territory with three Brooks runs, setting up the fourth down.

The mixture of run and pass — on that drive and in more broadly — seemed to be an issue.

Brooks ran for 90 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against Notre Dame, but after putting up 31 yards in the first quarter, he didn’t get another touch until midway through the third quarter.  

Some of that can be chalked up to Notre Dame limiting the BYU offense to just nine plays in the second quarter — the Fighting Irish had four straight drives that took 10 or more plays.

It emphasizes the need for BYU to better dictate the flow of the game instead of being forced to act on it when the opposing team controls the tempo.

“When you only have 46 plays total, that’s not going to do it,” Sitake said. “Part of that is defense (needs) to get off the field and offense (needs to) get first downs and keep drives going and to just get more efficient football from our team.”

There are too few impact plays from the defense

Much has been made about the fact that teams are using long, sustained drives to slowly chip away at the BYU defense. 

That’s how Oregon and Notre Dame limited the number of possessions and plays for BYU in losses, while it kept Wyoming and Utah State sticking around in Cougar wins.

All three of Notre Dame’s touchdown drives took more than five minutes, covered 75 yards or more and were at least 10 plays long.

The Fighting Irish were effective on third down, converting 11 of 16 in the game and 8 of 9 during that four-possession stretch when Notre Dame scored its three touchdowns.

Another aspect of those BYU defensive struggles is that the Cougars are not forcing many disruptive plays, like turnovers or sacks. 

BYU is in the bottom 30 nationally in both categories through six weeks, with six turnovers gained and nine total sacks.

The Cougars did get a timely turnover Saturday: Max Tooley intercepted a tipped pass in the fourth quarter when Notre Dame was leading 25-20 and driving deep into BYU territory. 

That set BYU up with the chance to take the lead despite trailing 25-6 at one point, though the Cougars went three-and-out and punted the ball back to the Fighting Irish, who then scored a field goal to make it an eight-point game.

“We felt good where we were at and had the ball,” Sitake said, “but we just couldn’t generate enough momentum to get in the end zone and put more pressure on Notre Dame.” 

Tooley has been the one constant in the turnover department: he has three of the team’s interceptions, including two pick-sixes.

Take away BYU scoring directly on Tooley’s two pick-sixes, and the Cougars offense has scored just seven points from the other four turnovers BYU has forced this season.

“We just dug ourselves too big of a hole and didn’t play consistent football, good football through 60 minutes,” Sitake said. “That’s my job. I’ve got to get these guys to play better.”