From the way his BYU defense played against Arkansas, and even after the game when he had a heated “exchange” with an angry fan, defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said Monday that Saturday’s 52-35 loss to Arkansas marked the “toughest day that I have had in seven years” at BYU.

“Emotions are high for everybody. I thought that was unbecoming (of me), and wanted to apologize to that gentleman. … What you said is correct. I have got to be better. And so we will go out there and we will fix what we need to and we will be better.” — Ilaisa Tuiaki, apologizing to unnamed fan who heckled him after BYU’s 52-35 loss to Arkansas

Speaking to host Greg Wrubell on his “Coordinators’ Corner” program, Tuiaki said, “everything that could have gone wrong in that game went wrong” and the defense’s performance in giving up 52 points and 644 yards and allowing Arkansas to convert on 12 of 15 third-down conversion attempts is unacceptable.

Tuiaki also acknowledged that in the fourth quarter the defense had lost its confidence. He also said he lost his cool on his walk from the press box to the locker room after the game. More on that later.

“It was just a tough game overall for all of us on defense, coaches and players,” Tuiaki said. “It is unacceptable. We have to be better. We know we need to be better, and we have got to work hard these next couple of weeks because the standard is high. We know we can play well. The confidence is shot a little bit and we have got to get it back.”

The 4-3 Cougars play at 6-1 Liberty on Saturday in Lynchburg, Virginia, and will depart for the East Coast on Thursday as is their standard operating procedure for games in the Eastern time zone.

Also Monday, head coach Kalani Sitake said in his weekly press briefing that he is making some adjustments in regards to the defense, but didn’t want to divulge them to the media before he shared them with his players first.

Asked if he feels “pressure” right now to make a change at defensive coordinator, Sitake sidestepped the question by saying it is his job to feel “pressure on everything.”

“So if you are asking specifically on that one, when you are giving up that many points and that many yards, then there has to be (scrutiny),” he said. “That’s the level of accountability. There has to be pressure on all of us. That’s my job as head coach. I don’t have a problem with our fans. I don’t tell fans how to act and how to be a fan. I just really appreciate the fact that our fans care and they love us.”

Asked whether he has made a decision on who will call the defensive plays against Liberty, Sitake reiterated what he said immediately after the game about all options being examined.

Kalani Sitake, head coach, and Ilaisa Tuiaki, BYU defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, shake hands during BYU media day at BYU Broadcasting in Provo on Friday, June 23, 2017. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

“I can go through all the changes that we have done from Day 1 to now, but you guys would get tired of it,” Sitake said. “There are some cool things, good things to carry over, and there are some things that we can, some tweaks and some major changes that we can do right now.”

In response to a question about Sitake’s background as a defensive coordinator and how helpful that is to him, Tuiaki said Sitake has “always been involved” in running the defense and that his job is to make the head coach happy. If a demotion is in the works, so be it, he intoned.

“Whatever he feels we need to do in order for us to be better, we’ve got to do it,” Tuiaki said. “We spoke after the game and I encouraged him, I was like, ‘Whatever you need to do, we need to do it. Whatever your vision is, I have got your back and we will move forward and we will roll.’

“So if his vision is for me to clean toilets every single day and it is going to make us win games, then you will see me giving my best effort whatever the smallest task is,” Tuiaki continued. “We have just gotta have that attitude and that effort to move forward, and I think that’s where we are right now.”

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson had a career day against the Cougars, throwing for 367 yards and five touchdowns. He also ran 10 times for 32 yards. 

“Obviously, when you have games like (Saturday’s), from top to bottom you have got to look at who’s doing what (and) what role are you asked to do, or are you going to change your role?” Tuiaki said.

He took some heat on social media, from fans and former BYU players alike, for saying that in hindsight he would not have devised a scheme to rush four and put a “spy” on Jefferson to keep him from beating the Cougars with his legs. Instead, he said, he would have dropped eight defenders to make it more difficult for the Razorbacks to throw the ball.

Regarding the awful defense on third down the past two weeks, Tuiaki said that they have to put a “different package” together.

“Something has gotta change, right?” he said. “That is what we have talked about. Something has to change. Change sometimes is uncomfortable for everybody, but we are looking at third-down packages. That’s gotta be scrutinized. What is being called has to be scrutinized. Who is playing has gotta be scrutinized. So we gotta find a way. … Everything is up for discussion and on the table.”

What Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said Monday about facing BYU on the Flames’ home turf
BYU football: Is the struggling Cougars’ leaky defense fixable, or is the talent just not there?
Kalani Sitake says ‘all options’ are on the table, including coaching assignments, after defense shredded by Arkansas

Whatever changes are made, the Cougars will be down a couple defensive starters. 

Sitake said junior linebacker Payton Wilgar is “doubtful for this weekend” but is not out for the year. Tuiaki said senior free safety Malik Moore is “still probably a couple weeks away” from playing after breaking his hand against Wyoming.

Toward the end of his appearance on “Coordinators’ Corner,” Tuiaki apologized to a BYU fan who expressed displeasure with his coaching when the defensive coordinator was walking past the south end-zone stands on his way to the locker room after the game.

In view and earshot of a few media members, the fan said something about Tuiaki needing to be fired and Tuiaki took a few steps toward the man and asked him if he wanted to suit up himself and go out on the field and make some tackles.

“Emotions are high for everybody. I thought that was unbecoming (of me), and wanted to apologize to that gentleman,” Tuiaki said. “… What you said is correct. I have got to be better. And so we will go out there and we will fix what we need to and we will be better.”

Cougars on the air

BYU (4-3) at Liberty (6-1)

Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT

Williams Stadium

Lynchburg, Virginia


Radio: KSL NewsRadio 102.7 FM/1160 AM