Kalani Sitake takes over defensive play-calling, but result is the same in BYU’s loss to Liberty
Cougars were supposed to be bigger and more athletic than Flames, but gave up 300 rushing yards in embarrassing defeat
LYNCHBURG, Va. — BYU’s defense was clearly broken before the Cougars entered Williams Stadium on Saturday afternoon to meet up with an inspired Liberty squad playing to fulfill a vision laid out some 50 years ago by its founder, Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Now the entire BYU team appears broken after a 41-14 loss in which coach Kalani Sitake said the Cougars came up short in all three phases.
But the defense was especially bad, and for the second straight week. Liberty rushed for 300 yards, passed for 247 and converted on 7 of 12 third-down opportunities.
“Obviously we need to make more plays defensively and we need more disruption overall, tackle better, shore up the run (defense). Once again we gave up a lot of run yards and lots of big plays. But we need to execute better. I thought a simplified game plan would be a lot easier for us to execute, and the thing is now the film doesn’t lie.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.
It was probably BYU’s worst loss, and arguably its most embarrassing, since that 16-10 setback to UMass in 2017 in Provo.
“Yeah, yeah. Absolutely,” said BYU defensive end Tyler Batty, when asked if it was the most difficult loss to take in his three-year career in Provo.
“It is tough. I think we have an amazing team. We still have amazing potential for the games down the stretch. To not achieve expectations, our own expectations, that sucks. That sucks. So yeah, very frustrating.”
Head coach Kalani Sitake vowed to make changes after the defense gave up 644 yards and 12 of 15 on third down conversions to Arkansas last week. One noticeable change was that defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki was on the field, rather than in the press box.
Another was that Sitake called the defensive plays, he acknowledged afterward. Nothing worked.
“We simplified the game plan, tried to focus on execution. I am not sure if we executed well enough. I will have to watch the film a little more and see where the breakdowns were,” Sitake said.
That’s going to be a long movie. There were dozens.
“Obviously we need to make more plays defensively and we need more disruption overall, tackle better, shore up the run (defense),” Sitake said.
“Once again we gave up a lot of run yards and lots of big plays, but we need to execute better. I thought a simplified game plan would be a lot easier for us to execute, and the thing is now the film doesn’t lie. We gotta go back and check it out and see why the reason was we didn’t execute and where is the fault.”
One glaring weakness is tackling; another is that running backs and quarterbacks seemingly get to the edges on the Cougars at will. BYU simply doesn’t seal the edges well.
“I know they bounced a lot of the runs (outside) and I would be concerned if we didn’t have any bodies out there to make the tackles, but I feel like we had bodies out there to make the plays,” Sitake said.
Starting rover linebacker Payton Wilgar and starting free safety Malik Moore didn’t play, as expected. There was a surprise, though. Former four-star recruit Chaz Ah You played for the first time this season and recorded one tackle.
“I am going to keep running the defense and focusing on getting the defense better and executing better, so that’s going to be my focus,” Sitake said, when asked if there will be more coaching changes.
“I am going to ask the guys to coach their positions better and hold everyone accountable, and that is to hold each other accountable. I look forward to seeing who wants to come out of this mess, but it is an easy filter for me, see who wants to join the fight and who wants to not be a part of it. We will get through it.”
Keenan Pili and Micah Harper led the Cougars with eight tackles apiece. Max Tooley and Batty had seven takedowns each.
“I think just us as players, we have to be better, and we have to come out and make plays. None of our coaches are on the field, right?” Batty said.
“None of them can go make tackles or a catch or run the ball, so for us, we have to be better as players.”
Clearly, BYU’s brand — the one that caused Liberty coach Hugh Freeze to proclaim the Cougars’ visit to Lynchburg the most important home game in Liberty program history — has taken a big hit the past few weeks as the losing skid has reached three games.
Batty isn’t sure.
“I think our brand is who we have been, and who we are currently. This wasn’t our brand of football,” Batty said.
“And that’s what is frustrating, and as we work to get back to that, of course we are going to see more success because our brand of football is a very successful brand of football.”
But right now that brand is broken — especially on defense.