‘A good defining moment for our guys’: No. 12 BYU relishing its shot vs. No. 25 Oregon at Autzen Stadium
Cougars will have to get over last Saturday’s emotionally draining 26-20 win over No. 9 Baylor in double overtime quickly before facing the 1-1 Ducks in Eugene
Considering the sheer physicality and length of last Saturday’s 26-20 win over Baylor in two overtimes, the fact that BYU didn’t suffer any serious injuries is somewhat surprising for coach Kalani Sitake’s team, but a welcome development nevertheless.
Now comes the hard part — recovering emotionally.
“It will be a good defining moment for our guys on the team. We talk about our depth and having a lot of experience and veterans. This will put us to the test. I have been in that environment. I have been in that stadium. It is a tough place to play, and not a lot of teams come out of there successful.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake on playing at No. 25 Oregon
Next up for the No. 12 Cougars (2-0) is arguably a bigger challenge than playing the No. 9 Bears at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. BYU has to travel to Eugene, Oregon, to face the No. 25 Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium, which Sitake said Monday is one of the most difficult places to play in all of college football.
The coach’s task this week will be to get his players to put the big win, the celebration, the field-storming from the fans, behind them and refocus on an Oregon team that crushed Eastern Washington 70-14 last week.
“Yeah, I am looking forward to the challenge,” Sitake said Monday in his weekly press briefing. “It will be a good defining moment for our guys on the team. We talk about our depth and having a lot of experience and veterans. This will put us to the test. I have been in that environment. I have been in that stadium. It is a tough place to play, and not a lot of teams come out of there successful.”
It is BYU’s first trip to Autzen since 1990, a year that will bring bittersweet memories for longtime Cougar fans who are hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.
After stunning No. 1 Miami 28-21 in Provo, No. 4-ranked BYU took a 4-0 record and top-10 ranking three weeks later into Eugene and got upset 32-16. Ty Detmer, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, threw for 442 yards, but he was intercepted five times and sacked five times.
Last Saturday’s win over the Bears marked the first time BYU has defeated a top-10 team at home since that 1990 win over Miami. So the similarities are there.
“The mindset is go out there and have fun, work hard during the week and make sure that we do our best and (that) the best versions of ourselves will show up on Saturday,” Sitake said.
Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. MDT and the game will be televised by Fox Sports, with Jason Benetti, Brock Huard and Allison Williams on the call. The series is tied 3-3; BYU won the last matchup, downing the Ducks 38-8 in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.
The Cougars went 5-0 against Pac-12 teams last year, defeating Arizona, Utah, Arizona State, Washington State and USC, but Sitake wasn’t interested in talking about that on Monday.
“I haven’t even thought about it,” he said. “Our team doesn’t think like that. We are just happy to play another game. So, I am not going to go into all the side stories and stuff like that. We are going to be focused on this game, this opponent, this week, and what we see on film.”
What do they see?
“A really talented football team, with a really quality (group) of coaches,” Sitake said. “This is (the staff’s) first year, and they are starting to get things (together). You could see if from Week 1 (a 49-3 loss to No. 1 Georgia) to Week 2. And we are expecting their best coming this Saturday.”
Job 1 is putting the craziness of the big win over Baylor behind them.
“Yeah, you get back on it,” Sitake said. “We have a veteran group that is used to the weekly grind of football. So you get over it, you learn.”
The coach said although the Cougars didn’t commit a turnover against Baylor — ending the Bears’ 23-game streak of getting at least one takeaway — some mistakes were made, such as nine penalties.
“The result of the game is not going to get in the way of us learning and getting better,” Sitake said. “So, whether we win or lose, the goal is to get better and to move on. We are going into our Monday mechanics now, which is to learn and get better and get ready for our opponent. That’s the focus.”
It will be a rare day game for the Cougars; Monday, it was announced that Sept. 24’s game vs. Wyoming at LES will kick off at 8:15 p.m. MDT and be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2.
Offensive lineman Connor Pay, linebacker Ben Bywater and safety Malik Moore also addressed the media Monday via Zoom and spoke about the “24-hour rule” Sitake has regarding celebrating wins and moving on to the next opponent.
“It is just business as usual. We love it when the fans get excited, especially after a big win like that. But for us, our minds are all on Oregon now and preparing the same way we do every week,” Pay said.
The center said the Cougars had to do it last year; after upsetting Utah 26-17 in “a really emotional win” in Week 2 to snap the Utes’ nine-game winning streak in the rivalry, they had to face No. 19 Arizona State a week later.
“We know that we are going into a hostile environment to play a really good team and need to prepare like we do every week,” Pay said. “As long as we prepare to do what we are coached to do, I think we will be OK and we will be ready to play.”
Pay said the typical BYU player starts refocusing on the next opponent on Sunday afternoon, and Bywater concurred.
“Enjoy it for 24 hours and then you are back to the drawing board on Monday morning,” Bywater said before the Cougars practiced Monday. “So I know the coaches, they got something dialed up for us. … You can’t soak on (big wins) for too long. For us, it is just about Oregon this week.
“But, it was huge win,” he acknowledged of the historic victory. “That will be a big memory for me and I think Cougar Nation for a long time.”
BYU is 14-16 all-time when it is ranked and playing a ranked opponent. The Cougars have won three of their last four matchups against top-25 teams. They are 8-8 against Pac-12 foes under Sitake, who picked up his 50th victory as a head coach last week.
Cougars on the air
No. 12 BYU (2-0) at No. 25 Oregon (1-1)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM