Humbled again in the heart of Texas, 5-3 Cougars insist they haven’t lost heart
Cougars will leave for West Virginia on Thursday, face 5-3 Mountaineers on Saturday in Morgantown
The question was about how difficult night games in the Eastern time zone can be on BYU, which won’t get home via a charter flight until about 3 a.m. MDT early Sunday morning after playing at West Virginia on Saturday evening.
“We don’t have guys on offense saying the defense isn’t doing their job. Or guys on defense saying the offense isn’t doing their job.” — BYU running back Aidan Robbins
BYU coach Kalani Sitake answered that question in his weekly press briefing Monday, briefly, by referencing his team’s far better record in night games than in day games, which has been well-documented.
“Yeah that is right up our alley man, here we go,” Sitake said. “It is time to go embrace the night. I am excited about the game.”
Kickoff at 67,000-seat Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown is at 5 p.m. MDT (7 p.m. in West Virginia) and the game will be televised by Fox Sports 1. If the World Series goes to a seventh game, BYU-West Virginia will be moved to the main Fox Sports channel and FS1 will pick up the Utah State-San Diego State game.
But let’s go back to the original question. After answering it and joking that reporters don’t want to talk about BYU’s record in night games any more, Sitake’s tone and demeanor noticeably changed.
It was clear, with Sitake’s voice rising a bit more than normal, that the eighth-year coach had more to say. He launched into a passionate defense of his team’s road record, noting that the losses were to a top-25 Kansas team that just beat previously undefeated Oklahoma, to a TCU team that played in the national championship game last year, and to a Texas team that is ranked in the top 10 and could make the College Football Playoff this year.
“I was proud of the way the guys played. Did it go our way? No. But we fought, and we had a chance. The chance might have been slim. But we had an opportunity where we had the ball and we were down 15 points,” Sitake said of the 35-6 loss to the No. 7 Longhorns.
“We have been able to accomplish (comebacks) and get back and win those games. We weren’t able to do it because Texas took care of their business. And so we don’t want to be in that position where we have to fight to the bitter end all the time. But I love the fact that we know we can count on our guys doing that.”
It is important for the fans to know that the Cougars didn’t quit, and won’t, even as another rugged road contest looms, Sitake said. Earlier, the coach said the 5-3 Cougars weren’t happy with the result, but “are still in a really good spot” and confident moving forward.
Few outside the BYU football building thought the Cougars would be within a win of bowl eligibility.
“I am proud that we have great leaders on the team that don’t lose faith and belief in each other. It is proof in how we are playing. Now, let’s go get it, and let’s find ways to perform at our best,” he said. “… There were a lot of great things that happened in that game that we can be really, really proud of. In order for me to do well as a coach, I think it is important that we fix the issues that we can improve on.”
“Yeah, I mean we have a great group of leaders here at BYU. A lot of mature guys,” said Robbins, who is now listed as a co-starter on the depth chart with freshman RB LJ Martin, who is banged up and wasn’t able to play against Texas, said no unit is blaming the other for the poor showing in Austin.
“We don’t have guys on offense saying the defense isn’t doing their job. Or guys on defense saying the offense isn’t doing their job,” said Robbins, who had 17 carries for 56 yards. “Even when things don’t go our way, we still find a way to remain positive and focus on how we can accomplish our goals in the upcoming week, and that’s just by being a unit and having camaraderie and just having a good overall brotherhood.”
Robbins said he’s feeling much better after a rib injury kept him out of four games and that he is ready to be the workhorse back if needed. Offensive players believe in offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, and that the OC will get the running game going and the offense purring as he has done in past years, Robbins said.
“We are definitely confident in what A Rod has dialed up for us. He is good at what he does,” Robbins said. “Ultimately it just comes down to us executing. From the staff to the players, we all have a job to do, and when we execute that job we will see the results.”
Speaking of Martin, Sitake said the freshman who warmed up before the UT game, but didn’t play, will be a game-time decision Saturday.
Defensive tackle John Nelson, receiver Keanu Hill and gunner/cornerback Marcus McKenzie also didn’t play.
“I think Keanu Hill is probably closer out of the group. LJ has been practicing. It is just a matter if we feel like he’s good to go and is 100%,” Sitake said. “There are a bunch of guys on the team who are really banged up. So we will see how they progress the next little bit.”
Because the Cougars always travel to East Coast games two days before kickoff, on Thursdays, decisions on which players make the trip will have to be made a day earlier than normal, on Tuesday in this case.
“I think highly doubtful for John Nelson and even Marcus McKenzie,” Sitake said. “I think Keanu and LJ are closer than those two, possibly.”
Cougars on the air
BYU (2-3, 5-3)
at West Virginia (3-2, 5-3)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT
Milan Puskar Stadium
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
Having noted that a starting quarterback change isn’t on his or Roderick’s mind immediately after Kedon Slovis struggled at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, Sitake stuck to his guns Monday.
“I think adjusting the offense is the key,” Sitake said. “… There are different ways to be mobile and to be effective. We know that (Slovis) can throw the ball, so let’s allow him to do that. Sometimes we have to protect for him.
“There is definitely an adjustment you have to make. But for us, it is to utilize the strengths that he has that makes him the starter for us, and then adjust our game plan so we can play to his strengths,” Sitake continued. “And that is anybody that is playing quarterback.”