Was No. 12 BYU overrated? It certainly looked that way in embarrassing 41-20 loss to Oregon
Scoring on their first six possessions, No. 25 Ducks regained some respect for the Pac-12, and sent No. 12 BYU packing with a deflating road loss
EUGENE, Oregon — Chants of “overrated, overrated” are among the dumbest in sports, as fans are actually undermining the efforts of their own team when they are getting the best of a higher-rated opponent.
But in the case of Saturday afternoon’s debacle for the No. 12 BYU Cougars, the Oregon students were entirely appropriate when they broke out the jeers after jumping out to a 31-point lead in the third quarter.
The No. 25 Ducks, themselves perhaps overrated when they began the season with a No. 11 ranking before getting trounced at Georgia, thoroughly embarrassed BYU to the tune of 41-20 in front of a sellout crowd of 54,463 at Autzen Stadium and a national television audience eager to see if these Western teams are frauds or legitimate.
“Obviously not the result that we were working for, but you gotta give a lot of credit to Oregon. They showed up to play more ready than we did, especially at the beginning. And I didn’t have this team ready, so that is on me. We gotta figure out a way to start better, start faster.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake
The Cougars (2-1) turned out to be the frauds, wilting on a partly cloudy, somewhat chilly day when their chance to validate last week’s win over No. 9 Baylor came in the form of a showdown with a Pac-12 power.
BYU was mighty proud of its 5-0 record against the Pac-12 last year, and it should be as equally embarrassed by Saturday’s performance.
It was like last year’s 38-24 loss at Baylor all over again. The Cougars were overwhelmed in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Throw in Oregon’s superiority on the edges in terms of talent, speed and quickness, and that’s what we witnessed in Week 3.
Head coach Kalani Sitake likes to talk about fundamentals — blocking, tackling, playing with discipline and poise, and doing the little things that win ball games. BYU did none of those well at Rich Brooks Field, blowing an opportunity that won’t come around again for quite a while.
“Obviously not the result that we were working for, but you gotta give a lot of credit to Oregon,” Sitake said. “They showed up to play more ready than we did, especially at the beginning, and I didn’t have this team ready, so that is on me. We gotta figure out a way to start better, start faster.”
The final numbers aren’t that ugly; Oregon finished with 439 yards and BYU had 366. But that’s doesn’t tell the complete story — not even close.
The Ducks took their foot off the gas after scoring on their first six possessions — five touchdowns and a field goal — and Sitake played his starters, including quarterback Jaren Hall, to the bitter end.
Sitake rightfully credited Oregon, as well he should. The Bo Nix-led Ducks were clearly the better team, in all three phases, and BYU has a lot of work to do, beginning next Saturday when 3-1 Wyoming rolls into LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“It was uncharacteristic of our team. We made a lot of mistakes, but I don’t want to take anything away from Oregon. I thought they played a great game, and they played exactly like we thought they could,” Sitake said.
“They have tons of athleticism and speed on their team. They are a great team. They are ranked for a reason, and they definitely should climb up the rankings.”
BYU will definitely fall from the rankings — perhaps all the way out.
With the stakes so high, why did the Cougars come out flat?
Sitake couldn’t put his finger on it, except to say that some early missed tackles and miscues allowed Oregon to seize the momentum, garner some confidence and get the Oregon fans who outnumbered BYU fans by about 3-1 squarely behind their team.
“Yeah, a lot of excitement, great stadium, good home field advantage to play at if you are Oregon,” Hall said. “But yeah, we just didn’t play as good as we should have, starting off.
“We had a good first play, had some momentum, just didn’t finish the drive and things got out of hand offensively the next couple of drives.”
Got out of hand is putting it mildly.
Oregon went 64 yards for a touchdown on its opening drive, got a short field goal on its second drive after taking over near midfield, then answered a Hall-to-Isaac Rex touchdown pass that momentarily gave the Cougars a belief that they could hang for about three minutes.
With Nix, the transfer from Auburn, throwing a 50-yard bomb to Troy Franklin on the next possession, the Ducks quickly went 75 yards in eight plays to restore order to Autzen.
The Cougars marched down the field, and a shootout appeared to be in order, but after overcoming two holding penalties flagged by a Pac-12 officiating crew, the Cougars’ drive stalled at the 23 and Jake Oldroyd was called in, all of Cougar Nation holding its collective breath with the knowledge of what happened last week in Provo.
Sure enough, Oldroyd missed again, this time from 38 yards out. The air went out of the Cougars.
For as fast as they were in the opening, this one seemed worse. Oregon drove 79 yards in 13 plays, took more than five minutes off the clock, broke tackle after tackle and scored on a 15-yard dime from Nix to Terrance Ferguson.
Sitake said “everything has to be evaluated for us,” when asked about Oldroyd’s kicking woes. “I mean, we have to find out what the issues and deficiencies were in every aspect of our game. Whether it is coaching, or players, or personnel, whatever it is.”
Well, it was everything — except the quarterbacking.
With no running game to speak of and his two top receivers — Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney — out again, Hall played reasonably well despite those unfavorable circumstances.
His protection was good, but young receivers such as Chase Roberts, Kody Epps and Keanu Hill struggled to get open most of the day.
Hall finished 29 of 41 for 305 yards and two touchdowns and a passer rating of 149.3.
All in all, it was an opportunity lost for the Cougars, and Hall knew it.
“We had a lot of momentum going (from the Baylor win) … and we were able to get a gritty win last week,” he said.
“It would have meant a lot for us to come in and get a win in this environment,” Hall said, “but it doesn’t change anything to do with our confidence. We are still the same team that we were a couple weeks ago. We gotta learn from today and get better.”
So special teams was a letdown again, and the offense couldn’t run the ball behind what is supposed to be the best offensive line in the Sitake era.
The Cougars picked up only 64 yards on the ground, on 24 attempts. Cal transfer Chris Brooks was bottled up for the second-straight game, netting only 28 yards on 10 carries.
He did find the end zone once, but only after Hall stumbled in getting him the handoff from the 2-yard-line.
“Well, that is a concern for me. I don’t know what the issue is. We will have to keep watching the film,” Sitake said regarding the running game.
“I thought that the defensive front of Baylor did a good job (last week). We thought we could find some spots against Oregon. Obviously they did a good job shutting down the run.”
That made the Cougars one-dimensional — not optimal with Nacua watching from the sidelines in a walking boot and Romney watching from home, still waiting clearance from doctors to play.
Sitake said they brought Nacua because they were “hopeful” he could go. It didn’t happen, with the training staff erring on the side of not putting him at greater risk.
“Hopefully next week will be time for (Nacua) to return, and time for Gunner (to return),” Sitake said. “We need some guys back.”
They also played without starting defensive ends Tyler Batty and Earl Tuioti-Mariner, and cornerback Kaleb Hayes left in the first half with concussion symptoms and did not return.
Sitake said the effort never waned, which is why he called a timeout late — much to the annoyance of the Oregon fans — in an attempt to get a fourth touchdown on the board.
“At the end of the game, we were trying to get the train back on the tracks, trying to do whatever we can to get some positivity from this to show that we are capable of doing things differently,” Sitake said.
“But we will have to look at this entire game and we have to get better from it. There is no running from it.”
Getting a running game going, and stopping the opponent’s running, will be a good place to start.