What are the big differences between BYU football circa spring 2019 and 2021, and today, April 2022?
Well, if you got picky, there’re probably a lot of things like an established QB, a deeper, more experienced offensive line, a coaching staff that has been together — basically intact — for five years, future Big 12 membership and prep for that task, and operations were undertaken with a beefy contract for head coach Kalani Sitake that’s bled down to his staff and assistants.
But if you get in the weeds and look hard, there’s another subtle characteristic that’s surfaced, according to assistant head coach Ed Lamb.
“I like where we’re at mentally,” said Lamb.
In other words, the young team that played a lot of freshmen back in the Zach Wilson 11-win season and the 2021 “rebuilding” team that won 10 games, including a 5-0 Pac-12 win skein, is maturing.
Jaren Hall has the lowest career INT percentage in BYU history. pic.twitter.com/xZ4CLK7isl— CougarStats (@CougarStats) April 6, 2022
“I think we’ve got a veteran group. They’re working well together, they keep each other safe. They’re competing hard and yet, as coaches, we’ve tried to pull back some of the ground contact. That takes maturity to be able to handle that and still get good work. I thought our guys have risen to that challenge as a group.”
Lamb probably doesn’t get enough credit for his leadership with Sitake and BYU’s football program.
The former head coach at Southern Utah and assistant to Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, Lamb is a thinker, evaluator and nuts-and-bolts coach whose knowledge and experience have benefited his boss in a myriad of ways. Recruits usually need to pass the Lamb scrutiny on the way to scholarship offers.
Lamb saw BYU’s older players step up in a key role as mentors during spring practice. There was a lot of tutoring going on, people looking out for one another, and care given to preventing injuries. A lot of newcomers benefited from the mature mental approach on display.
And then, there’s the weight of the chip on the shoulder. Lamb and other coaches believe the way the season ended with a loss to Alabama Birmingham in a bowl game left a sour taste in the mouths of players and they’ll be out to prove something come September.
That can be a good thing.
Last year’s team kicked off the season with a 5-0 start on a similar theme. They were trying to prove the COVID-19 season of 2020 in which BYU obtained a top-10 ranking wasn’t a fluke. Critics said it was because that 2020 squad did not play a Power 5 opponent. The 2021 team then rattled off wins over six Power 5 teams, including Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, USC, Washington State and Virginia.
CFB’s 2022 Playoff Dark Horses:— WestCoastCFB.com (@WestCoastCFB) March 31, 2022
Michigan State https://t.co/bJEPxXkLIP
Since BYU renewed Sitake’s contract last December, some needed resources have begun to find their way into Sitake’s budget. Some of that includes the ability to hire valuable analysts in Matt Mitchell and Al Pupunu.
Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick tried to keep Mitchell on staff before he followed Jeff Grimes to Baylor two years ago. Roderick was unable to keep Mitchell, a graduate assistant to Grimes at BYU, in that transition, although he worked hard to get it.
BYU hired five additional staff members before spring practice, including Mitchell, who had coached at Notre Dame and Western Kentucky before Grimes brought him to BYU. Mitchell agreed to leave Baylor and return to Provo. Another of those recently hired was Pupunu, a former veteran tight end with five NFL teams, an All-American and Hall of Famer at Weber State, who’d worked with Lamb at SUU, and worked at both Utah and Colorado.
When asked what resources had been kicked down the food chain to Sitake’s staff in the contract extension called “unprecedented” four months ago, Lamb said Sitake’s staff doesn’t worry about it.
“I think that our administration, from the university president on down, has a real commitment to taking a look at what being a member of the Big 12 means, what it takes to be competitive in that conference on the field, with staffing, and facilities. I think we are moving in that direction.”
Lamb said he doesn’t have specific details on that, but knows it’s on a whiteboard, spreadsheet or file that is expected to be passed up the administrative ladder. “I don’t know it because I really don’t ask,” said Lamb.
“This is a great place to be because I think we are always striving to do the very best we can. The biggest difference now is what BYU needs to do to get there will come with increased revenue. I know they want us to have the resources to do what they feel is appropriate to compete.”
So, if you ask what’s the difference between spring 2019 and today?
Perhaps a more mature landscape where football can thrive.