Confidence is a delicate thing in sports as BYU football is finding out.
Too bad receiver Puka Nacua can’t share his.
Can he just do one of those Spock Vulcan mind melds with his teammates?
Absurd, of course. He can’t do it all himself, but if there was ever an emotional leader who could be a force in pulling the Cougars out of this tailspin, it is this Nacua guy.
He’s a kind of Captain America, a Captain Moroni, a banner carrier.
He keeps getting knocked down, but just gets back up and refuses to accept defeat. His energy and love of the game are infectious.
Ever since Kalani Sitake’s team left Eugene mulling over a defeat at the hands of a very good Oregon team, it has lost confidence and is without the swagger it had in a win over Baylor.
Against Baylor, BYU’s defense had four sacks. The Cougars have only four sacks in all their games combined since that win over the defending Big 12 champions.
It’s easy to lose confidence.
Ask golfers who go through a streak of missing putts.
Ask basketball players who lose their touch at the free-throw line.
Confidence is a driver, a propellant, a fuel. It produces adrenaline. Football is a game of momentum and requires extreme confidence, both by the individual and the collective.
In BYU’s three-game losing streak, it’s evident the Cougars are flailing.
After BYU’s loss to Liberty in Lynchburg, Virginia, last weekend, it was Nacua everyone said stood up in the locker room and spoke weighty, meaningful words the rest of them needed to hear. He challenged his friends. He asked for more. He asked those who went on the field to man up and find another gear.
On Monday, Nacua told the media, “I had the opportunity to talk with the guys after the game on Saturday, and I reminded them how many people there are who want to wear that jersey with the Y on the front of it, and have the chance to play football in front of a huge fanbase. Saturdays are what we live for, it doesn’t matter who we play. We play all year for the 12 Saturdays we get on the schedule. Our guys are ready to fight.”
Nacua is BYU’s Alexander the Great right now. He’s Hannibal in that siege outside Rome, Joshua outside Jericho. He’s begging for more, asking for an elevation against a wall of criticism and scrutiny and self-doubt, a cascade of outside finger pointing at coaches and players.
If you wear a BYU practice jersey this week, you ought to listen to this guy. Watch him. Emulate him. Believing is a big chunk of the recipe for BYU. The Cougars are usually an overachieving team. They have almost a zero margin for error.
In 1992, @BYUfootball started the season 0-3. I knew as a team captain, I had to lead by example. Leading by example meant:— Dr. Derwin L. Gray (@DerwinLGray) October 24, 2022
1. I displayed confidence.
2. I prepared for games with uncommon:
3. I shut outside voices. pic.twitter.com/ylHkYodWGn
“It’s hard to explain all the way through because the fans don’t have the opportunity to be in the locker room, be with the guys on this team,” said Nacua. “We had a lifting session with the entire team this morning, and it brought a smile to my face. We obviously never want to lose on Saturdays, but to come back on Monday and see all the guys is good pain. There is a different kind of bounce and energy, which is what you want coming off a loss.”
In the fog of losses, witnessed everywhere from Alabama (vs. Tennessee), Texas (vs. Oklahoma State) and UCLA (vs. Oregon), you see a lot of disappointment and even anger from fans. You see calls for jobs, firings, wiping the slate clean. This is the ugly part of sports. It’s part of why Bronco Mendenhall took a hiatus at Virginia.
No, of course I’m not comparing BYU’s loss to Liberty with Alabama losing to Tennessee. But losses stir darkness among fanbases.
And that’s all understandable. Last Saturday was one of the worst performances defensively and offensively by a BYU team during independence. It was ugly.
But with more than a month of football to play, bailing out on the Cougars is a little drastic. These are some of the same coaches who coached wins over five Pac-12 teams last year and had wins over Tennessee, Michigan State, USC, Utah, ASU, Virginia and Texas to name a few.
They didn’t suddenly lose their minds.
But they have witnessed their squad lose confidence and begin to falter big time.
It seems faith in a guy like Nacua is worth investing in if you are his teammate or a fan. If his supreme confidence and leadership can put a spark in his teammates, so be it. It’s worth seeing if it can work. It is interesting to look at as a dynamic.
Frankly, it might take a miracle to beat a talented East Carolina team and Boise State in the coming weeks with the way BYU’s defense has played in three straight losses to Notre Dame, Arkansas and Liberty.
But tell that to Nacua.
“We’re a little bit fragile right now,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on Monday’s “Coordinators’ Corner.” “We need to handle adversity better.”
Perhaps all the buildup for this team in the offseason, all the hype, has led to some of the letdown in players right now. The BYU media machine is guilty as charged for setting the bar high.
But as former BYU and Utah receiver coach Guy Holliday tweeted out recently, “Players stop getting upset with fans for their criticism on Social Media. You play the game for Self Family and TEAM. Your first mistake was openly accepting the praise and Hype on SM (social media). You chose to open that door. With all the praise you love comes criticism you hate.”
But don’t label Nacua with that. He’s been money.
Oh, and a win really can do wonders for confidence.