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What kind of defensive role will Kalani Sitake take when Cougars face Liberty?

After losing to Arkansas, BYU looks to find answers for its defensive struggles

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BYU coach Kalani Sitake, left, stands on the sideline as his team plays the Arkansas Razorbacks in Provo, Oct. 15, 2022.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake, left, stands on the sideline as his team plays Arkansas in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. The Razorbacks dropped 52 points on the Cougars’ defense.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

This article was first published in the Cougar Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Tuesday night.

BYU will play its eighth game in a row when the 4-3 Cougars travel to Lynchburg, Virginia, to play the 6-1 Liberty Flames on Saturday. Head coach Kalani Sitake is working hard to see that he has a much better defense on this trip.

After a disappointing loss to Arkansas in which the defense struggled against the SEC team, Sitake worked earlier this week to shore up the confidence of his defense. Part of the plan was to step in and take a bigger role himself and shake up some assignments with his staff. On Monday, he would not detail what changes he would make to the media.

Cougar Insiders predictions

Predict the score of BYU vs. Liberty and explain your reasoning.

Jay Drew: At first glance, this would appear to be the trap game of all trap games for the Cougars. But because BYU has lost two straight games, the Cougars can’t afford to look past anybody, and they know it. 

The entire program is undergoing an intense self-evaluation this week after the Arkansas disaster, and emotions are high in Provo. For that reason, I think BYU will come up with one of its best games of the season on Saturday in faraway Lynchburg, Virginia.

I also know that this is Liberty’s Super Bowl. The Flames and their former SEC coach Hugh Freeze aren’t hiding that fact. They have been preparing for this game for years — ever since almost knocking off BYU in Provo in 2019. Liberty is really capable of getting the win, and I wouldn’t even consider it a big upset if the Flames pull it off. Freeze is a big-time coach and they’ve got some big-time players. And BYU’s confidence is shaken, particularly on defense. The key for BYU is a fast start to keep Liberty’s crowd from becoming a factor. 

Prediction: BYU 35, Liberty 31

Dick Harmon: I thought BYU should have beat Notre Dame but I underestimated the impact of Jaren Hall’s injury and the well-hidden news that he didn’t take a snap in practice that week. Arkansas was a three-point game twice in the third quarter until the dam broke. I look for Kalani Sitake to have a bigger role in the defense this week and inject some confidence into his players. This is a rally week and a wake-up call for the program and I expect some results.

Liberty almost beat Wake Forest and is to be taken seriously. The Flames have a great defense and lead the nation in getting turnovers. I think Hall is getting healthier every week and the return of a 100% Puka Nacua and the emergence of Kody Epps will help. That BYU had two 75-yard scoring drives on Arkansas in the third quarter buoys up hope in Hall and his side of the ball. In order to win this game, BYU’s offense needs to execute at its best, put up points and build a lead to help its ailing defense. If the offense can do that, and I believe it can, then this is a key, needed win. 

Prediction: BYU 34, Liberty 31

Cougar tales

The Arkansas loss ended BYU’s independent schedule with P5 schools except for the season-ending game at Stanford. If anything, the losses to Oregon, Notre Dame and Arkansas exposed how far BYU needs to go to be competitive in the Big 12. Here is a list of stories from the Arkansas loss and Monday’s media availability.

From the archives

From the Twitterverse

Extra points


Comments from Deseret News readers:

Dropping 8 rushing 3 means he’s clueless because he hasn’t got the horses to rush 3 and put pressure on a QB or stop the run. Arkansas would have run for 8-9 yards a carry, but wait, they did that anyway. The problem was the Titanic syndrome, once you hit the iceberg you keep relying on the ship’s design that it is unsinkable and therefore keep neglecting to do anything different to fix the problem. Offense and defense was locked into a plan and couldn’t adjust. There wasn’t enough depth in coaching knowledge and experience to make adjustments on the fly. BYU will be 2-10 next year with this kind a talent in coaching.

— Dimitri

I’m not a coach, but I have several decades of football officiating. My position was the umpire. I stood behind the defensive line and linebackers.

I’ve seen good defenses, great defenses and lousy defenses.

The great ones, showed different looks, stunted a lot and blitzed a lot. Creativity was a key. Being proactive instead of reactive was key. Having active defensive linemen was key.

I saw a kid that was a nose guard from Grantsville, couldn’t have weighed more than 150 pounds taking on a center and guards that outweighed him by at least 60 to 70 pounds. He worked within the defensive scheme and did quite well. Got pushed around a few times but made several tackles and even sacked the QB twice. Someone taught him well.

From my observation, BYU’s defense is neither proactive nor creative. They are reactive. They put no pressure on the QBs. They’ve had 7sacks in 7 games and missed one on a critical third down play ... four players got hands-on and didn’t make the tackle.

Something is wrong. Talent is relative. You can coach up a lesser talent. Edwards did it his whole career and had great defenses. This year’s team has had some great stops, but not enough.

— Flashback

Up next

Oct. 19 | 8 a.m. | Men’s golf | TPC | Parker, Colorado

Oct. 19 | 4 p.m. | Soccer | vs. Pepperdine | @Malibu, California

Oct. 21 | 8 p.m. | Women’s volleyball | @San Diego, California

Oct. 22 | 1:30 p.m. | Football | Liberty | @Lynchburg, Virginia