BYU football fans looking for something — anything — to buttress their belief that the slumping Cougars will somehow right the ship and defeat East Carolina on Friday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium can point toward the kickoff time, which is 6 p.m. MDT.

Yes, the kickoff time. That’s what the disappointing season of 2022 has come down to.

The Cougars have won their last 13 night games (read: games that started after 6 p.m.) and their last 14 home night games. Conversely, they have dropped their last four day games, falling to UAB, Oregon, Notre Dame and Liberty when the sun was shining (or supposed to be shining, in the case of the bowl game last December against UAB).

“Yeah, we can get (confidence) back, and this game is going to tell a lot. We can get it back this game, I feel like, and carry it on to the rest of the year. But this game is really important, and we gotta play like that.” — BYU tight end Isaac Rex

As far as the actual product on the field, BYU, 4-4 and on a three-game losing skid, hasn’t given anyone hope that it can slow down the Pirates (5-3) and their outstanding quarterback, Holton Ahlers. The four-year starter might be the best quarterback not named Bo Nix the Cougars will face this season.

East Carolina, which drubbed UCF 34-13 last Saturday at home in Greenville, North Carolina, a few hours after the Cougars were humiliated 41-14 by Liberty, rides into Provo with plenty of confidence and momentum.

BYU has none of that. Will the Cougars rediscover the mojo that carried them to wins over South Florida, No. 9 Baylor, Wyoming and Utah State? Tight end Isaac Rex thinks so.

“Yeah, we can get it back, and this game is going to tell a lot,” Rex said. “We can get it back this game, I feel like, and carry it on to the rest of the year. But this game is really important, and we gotta play like that.”

Problem is, the Cougars went into Liberty with a wrecked defense that gave up 644 yards and 52 points to Arkansas, but an offense that seemed to be clicking in all areas. Then that unit failed to score in the final three quarters against the Flames, bringing more doubt to what offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick called an offense that is “a little bit fragile right now, confidence-wise.”

Rex, one of the more positive players on the team, said there has been no finger-pointing between units, even as it appeared the offense sagged late against Arkansas and in the second quarter against Liberty when the defense proved defenseless time and again.

“As offensive guys, we just have to control what we can control. We can’t control what the defense does, what happens over there. We have to show our support for them, show our love for them,” Rex said. “When it is time for us to make plays, we need to make plays, and we didn’t on Saturday. We are going to change that this week.”

Clarifying his “fragile” comment on Tuesday, Roderick said maybe it wasn’t the best choice of words and noted he was specifically referring to the offense that he oversees.

“Saturday, I was really surprised,” he said. “I thought we have always been a very resilient group. In my time here, even when we weren’t that good in the first couple of years, when we were building this offense, I thought we were always a team that would thrive in adversity and play really hard in the tough situations, and I don’t think we did that on Saturday like I am used to seeing.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake said team meetings have been spent focusing on some of the positive things the Cougars have done the past two years.

“Confidence is just not momentum-built,” Sitake said. “It is who you are and what you are about. So have confidence in yourself that you are doing all the little things on and off the field to get it done. I think you can have more confidence going into the game knowing you have exhausted all your energies in your preparation.”

Defensive back Chaz Ah You, the former four-star recruit out of Timpview High who made his 2022 season debut against Liberty, said he has been preparing to play for more than a month and observed the defense’s gradual meltdown since the Baylor game.

His diagnosis: “I think everybody just needs to get their eyes on the right prize,” he said. “… There are a lot of things pulling you away from football. I think right now with our defense what is needed is to focus on what we do, forget what bowl games we are going to, those types of things, and just focus on BYU as a (complete) unit.”

Ah You said the “plague” of listening to “outside voices” and accepting praise is what led the defense to “kinda fall apart like this” and look shaky in wins over the Cowboys and Aggies and a close loss to a Notre Dame team that has struggled since beating the Cougars 28-20 in Las Vegas.

“So I think right now we are in a good place where the outside is shut out,” Ah You said, confirming that he will play in only four games this year to retain his redshirt season. “We don’t care to hear from the outside right now and obviously there are not a lot of positive things being said, so I think we are really locked in and just listening to each other and buying into that.”

BYU will be shorthanded on both sides of the ball against ECU; Roderick said Tuesday that leading rusher Chris Brooks (hamstring) and leading receiver Kody Epps (wrist injury) won’t play. Defensively, the Cougars will be without starting free safety Malik Moore and, possibly, linebacker Payton Wilgar.

But there are plenty of veterans still playing on defense, which is why the unit’s slide this season is so perplexing to some.

“We definitely haven’t lived up to our expectations, and our expectations were high, as were everybody’s expectations for us,” said safety Talan Alfrey, who has moved into a starting role, along with Micah Harper. “So yeah, we haven’t lived up to what we believe we can do, and the goal is to reach those expectations and exceed them from here to the rest of the season.”

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Beleaguered BYU will face streaking East Carolina without two key offensive stars

Looking for more reasons to believe? The Cougars have won their last five Friday games. And ECU has to make the long trip across the country to Provo again, having lost 45-38 to BYU in 2015 the last time it visited the Mountain time zone.

“This is going to be our toughest road test of the year Friday night,” ECU coach Mike Houston said. “Our players know that, our coaches know that. They are very focused on that. … I expect us to go out and play at a very high level Friday night.”

Will the Cougars match, or exceed, that level of play? 

Around here, there’s not a lot of confidence that they can, or will.

Cougars on the air

East Carolina (5-3)

at BYU (4-4)

Friday, 6 p.m. MDT

LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo


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