BYU football: Reeling Cougars face a week of self-evaluation before Wyoming visits
Former WAC and Mountain West rivals BYU and Wyoming collide Saturday in Provo at 8:15 p.m. MDT on ESPN2
After Saturday’s 41-20 thumping from the underrated Oregon Ducks, BYU’s dream of making it into the College Football Playoff is long gone and its hope to reach a New Year’s Six bowl game in its final season of independence is on life-support.
From a big-picture perspective, that’s where coach Kalani Sitake’s program is right now, sitting at 2-1 three games into the 2022 season. The Cougars fell seven places to No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25 after the nationally televised debacle at Autzen Stadium, while Oregon jumped 10 spots to No. 15.
That’s probably closer to where the teams should have been before the contest, a lopsided affair in which athletic and explosive Oregon exposed a myriad of BYU’s weaknesses and issues. And the Cougars piled on themselves as well, committing several unforced errors that led to their largest margin of defeat since Washington drubbed them 45-19 in Provo in 2019.
“Yeah, chin up, chest out. Obviously we gotta learn from this loss, take it on the chin. We are going to move forward. I am not too worried about our guys. We just gotta get back at it next week.” — BYU linebacker Ben Bywater after the 41-20 loss to Oregon
Poor tackling, ill-advised pursuit angles and another missed chip-shot field goal were the most noticeable shortcomings.
“Yeah, everything has to be evaluated for us. 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,” Sitake said. “I just want to make sure we get back to where we can be and we are ready when we get back home for our next game.”
That next game looks a bit more difficult now than when the season started. Former WAC and Mountain West rival Wyoming arrives at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday (8:15 p.m. MDT) with a 3-1 record, a three-game winning streak and a 17-14 victory over previously undefeated Air Force under its belt.
The Pokes of yesteryear never had trouble getting up for the Cougars, and this year’s iteration certainly will be reminded all week about their predecessors’ disdain for BYU from the Wyoming media.
But Sitake has other issues to worry about and work through, such as why this highly touted offensive line and prized Cal transfer running back Chris Brooks can’t seem to get a running game going. BYU averaged 2.5 yards per carry against the Ducks and the now-No. 17 Baylor Bears.
“Well, that is a concern for me. … I don’t know what the issue is,” Sitake told the Deseret News after Saturday’s 61-yard rushing performance. “We will have to keep watching the film. I thought that the defensive front of Baylor did a good job. We thought we could find some spots against Oregon. Obviously they did a good job shutting down the run.”
Sitake said the shutdown made the Cougars one-dimensional and put them in some difficult situations on third and fourth down.
“And we couldn’t capitalize and make those plays,” he said. “We couldn’t finish drives. We will get that fixed.”
Obviously, going down a notch or two in competition will help the next two weeks as BYU faces Wyoming and then instate rival Utah State (1-2) in a quick turnaround game on Thursday, Sept. 29. The Cougars will need to get it figured out before they meet Notre Dame in Las Vegas on Oct. 8 and Arkansas in Provo on Oct. 15, or they could see a repeat of Saturday’s nightmare at Autzen.
For his part, quarterback Jaren Hall isn’t losing faith in the running game, although the lack thereof has put more pressure on the fifth-year junior than he went into the season bargaining for. Not having wideouts Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney has also been a burden Hall has had to bear.
“I trust our guys up front. That was a good defensive line (that was) coached very well,” Hall said after throwing for 305 yards and two touchdowns. “Our guys will be OK. We will figure out a way to get things going there. I trust (offensive line) coach (Darrell) Funk to get things going.”
Hall, who was sacked just once and didn’t commit a turnover for the second-straight game against a Power Five foe, defended Sitake’s decision to let the starters play to the bitter end against the Ducks, saying it is just not in the coach’s nature to wave the white flag.
“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 were 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.”
On the defensive side, the Cougars talked about their depth throughout the offseason and fall camp, and now they will need it. Defensive line starters Tyler Batty and Earl Tuioti-Mariner missed the Oregon game with injuries, and cornerback Kaleb Hayes left early with concussion-like symptoms.
Linebacker Max Tooley led BYU in tackles for the second-straight game, posting eight takedowns, while fellow LB Ben Bywater and defensive back Jakob Robinson had seven apiece.
“Tough, tough gig. I am proud of my guys for how we fought towards the end,” Bywater said. “Obviously we gotta crush the run game (and didn’t). They came out hot, ran it down our throats. No excuses, just something we gotta work on and next week we will be back to the drawing board and figure it out.”
Bywater said sticking together, resisting the urge to point fingers, and showing resolve to improve will be keys this week.
“Yeah, chin up, chest out,” he said. “Obviously we gotta learn from this loss, take it on the chin. We are going to move forward. I am not too worried about our guys. We just gotta get back at it next week.”
Cougars on the air
Wyoming (3-1) at No. 19 BYU (2-1)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM