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BYU must repair its cracked confidence, and quick

The fun bus that was BYU football early on, needs some repair. The sooner the better

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Liberty running back Dae Dae Hunter, left, protects the ball from BYU’s Micah Harper during game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Lynchburg, Va.

Liberty running back Dae Dae Hunter, left, protects the ball from BYU’s Micah Harper during game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Lynchburg, Va. The underdog Flames came back and pummeled the Cougars after trailing 14-3.

Paige Dingler/The News & Advance via Associated Press

The fun bus has a cracked windshield.

Two weeks into the season, the BYU Cougars were enjoying life in the fast lane. Wins at South Florida and against No. 9 Baylor boosted them up the polls and painted a clear picture of the possibilities ahead.

Then Oregon happened and everything changed. The Ducks hit BYU so hard in so many ways that it cracked their confidence, just as a rock can crack a windshield. The 41-20 beatdown left the Cougars exposed, vulnerable and out of focus.

Suddenly, the fun bus wasn’t so fun. In fact, with impaired vision, it became harder to steer and stay on course and with the ensuing defeats to Notre Dame, Arkansas and Liberty, doubts have multiplied at the same rate of speed as the number of back-seat drivers.

As I learned firsthand while maneuvering through the yearslong I-15 construction project in Utah County, a windshield can only take so much. The rocks come, the chips and cracks along with them, and they often require a quick response to minimize the damage.

Head coach Kalani Sitake is wise enough to know that a cracked windshield does not mean the engine is bad, or that the tires are bald, or that you need to trade in the bus for something else. It’s just harder to drive forward when you can’t clearly see what’s up ahead.

Cracked confidence on a football team isn’t much different. The offense, defense and special teams have all flourished before, but as was evident in Saturday’s lackluster performance at Liberty, those days are history.

BYU played like a team Cougars fans hardly recognized. They wandered about looking lost, confused and void of any confidence, and if they don’t find themselves in the next few days, East Carolina will run them off their own field Friday night.

After crushing defeats, we often hear players talk about the need to “look in the mirror” for a self-evaluation before tackling the larger problems with the team. We heard plenty of that after Saturday’s game. The challenge is the mirror they are looking into that once reflected the No. 12 team in the nation, is also broken.

Just as it’s hard to drive with a cracked windshield, it is equally difficult to get an accurate reflection while staring into fractured glass. Once the light hits it creates a kaleidoscope of options in the form of colors, angles and perspectives. The eye naturally gravitates to wherever the light takes it. If the spotlight is on negative plays, that’s where the eyes go and the mind follows.

Negativity is real and it is brutal and it has to be dealt with on a personal level before any bigger changes can have an impact. That’s what makes this so challenging for Sitake. He can take over the defensive play calling, but until the left end decides to fight harder, or the linebacker decides to fill his gap, or the cornerback decides to lock down his man, nothing will create a better pass rush.

Positivity is powerful and game-changing. It’s what BYU needs right now and it’s all in-house. The outside world is too bent out of shape. This is not a call for fan civility. They pay their money and can grumble all they want, but grumbling is a reaction, not a solution. Also, yelling “Fire that guy!” isn’t a strategy for victory on Friday.

Sitake needs a psychological solution. He can’t go out and get 100 new players and a new staff — nor should he. The head coach just needs each young man to look into their own broken mirror and choose to see a positive instead of a negative and dwell on it until they remember how to do it. In many cases, history can be a powerful reminder of what’s possible in the present.

For example, as quarterback Jaren Hall stares into his broken mirror, he will see a string of poor decisions, bad passes and hesitancy to run while protecting a less-than-healthy shoulder. Or, he can choose to see his nights of dominance when he played fast and free while leading BYU to wins against No. 18 Utah, No. 19 Arizona State, Washington State, USC, Virginia and No. 9 Baylor, while hearing his named tossed about by NFL projectionists.

Depending on what reflection Puka Nacua is looking at, he will see his sprained ankle at South Florida, a hamstring injury against Wyoming or his dropped passes against Notre Dame and Liberty. Or, he can choose to see the overwhelming evidence that he is often the most dominant player on the field.

Max Tooley can either see the game-changing linebacker that has three interceptions, including two for touchdowns, or the guy that has been frequently out of position or fails to make a tackle when he is.

The defensive line can see the group that sacked Baylor’s quarterback four times or the same group that has only four sacks over the last six games combined.

Jake Oldroyd can look into his broken mirror and see a kicker that has missed five of his last six field goals or he can see the kicker who once made 16 in a row and finished runner-up as the best in college football.

The examples run as deep as the roster, and the staff, but the same players and personnel who have lost three straight games are, for the most part, the same players that have won 25 of the last 33, including 7 of 11 against P5 opponents.

What’s the difference? Confidence.

How do you get it back? Personal accountability, which breeds self-induced discipline — the same formula that works in the business world. Once that’s accomplished, simplify everything and focus on doing the little things better — like making a tackle on third down. 

This is a frustrating time for everyone associated with BYU football where the recent performances are so far below expectations that many will debate whether it’s worth bundling up and showing up for Friday’s game — and who can blame them?

I am living proof that you can live with a cracked windshield. On most days, I don’t even notice it. But when the sun strikes it just right — it’s all I can see and drives me nuts.

At the moment, a spotlight is shining directly on the cracks in this football team and it’s all anybody can see. But like a windshield, cracked confidence can be repaired. It won’t be perfect, but good enough to minimize the damage and see the road ahead.

Even if the fun bus stays out of the fast lane for a while, it doesn’t mean that the Cougars can’t enjoy the rest of the ride and finish this final year as an independent in an entertaining and confident way — showing some pride while they do it.

But seriously, running Nacua out of the backfield on third down and 10, to the short side of the field, where Liberty and its entire student body was waiting for him? C’mon. It’s not just the players that need to be better.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com. 


Fans in the Liberty student section cheer during the team’s victory against BYU on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Lynchburg, Va.

Paige Dingler/The News & Advance via Associated Press