The football never should have been thrown.

That was BYU football coach Kalani Sitake’s defense of the inexplicable play call that led to Oklahoma defender Billy Bowman’s 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in the Sooners’ 31-24 win over the Cougars Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

“That was an RPO (run-pass option) call,” Sitake said. “Run it first. Usually you throw the ball (only) if you have the numbers there.”

“I don’t want to throw guys under the bus, but I don’t know how else to tell you guys. I want to be honest and transparent. But that’s a really tough lesson to learn when you go through this and we had an opportunity to win this game and get the fans storming the field and stuff like that.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.

BYU clearly didn’t have the numbers there. 

Bowman, a junior defensive back, stepped in front of Jake Retzlaff’s quick pass, which was intended for Kody Epps, and ran 100 yards to the other end zone, untouched until a hustling Retzlaff tripped him up near the goal line.

So instead of BYU taking a 24-17 lead, the No. 14 Sooners had the 24-17 lead, and went on from there to survive a major scare as 24-point favorites as they picked up their ninth win.

“Credit to their guy. They made a play, and we made a mistake, a costly one,” Sitake said. “You are about to go up by seven, instead you go down by seven. So there is a 14-point swing, which was horrible to go through.”

To his credit, Retzlaff led the Cougars on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive the next time he touched the ball to tie it up at 24-24. But the damage was done. It was one of Retzlaff’s three turnovers; the other two were fumbles.

“You cannot be careless with the football, whether it is fumbles or interceptions, and expect to beat teams,” Sitake said. “We lost the turnover margin and that is what it comes down to. They were really costly.”

None more than the goal-line interception — perhaps all season.

What had happened before that made it even more abhorrent. 

With the game knotted at 17-17, the Cougars took over at their 40 and ran the ball three straight times for 58 yards. Oklahoma’s defense looked gassed and BYU’s offensive line looked as good as it has all season.

Then came the pass, on first-and-goal from the 2. 

Was Aidan Robbins surprised that he didn’t get the ball again, after having picked up 25 and 21 yards on the drive?

“A little bit,” said the UNLV transfer, picking his words carefully. “But you know, I mean, it is what it is. It happened, and you can’t do anything to change that.”

Robbins ran for a season-high 182 yards on 22 carries, part of BYU’s 217 yards on the ground. But it was a pass that this game will be remembered for.

“It stings a little bit, especially when you drive all the way down and you get to the 2-yard line, whatever,” Robbins said. “That is football. It is all about (handling) adversity and it is life lessons, man. When adversity hits you in the face, how are you going to respond?”

The Cougars did respond, but their rushing attack went away on their final two possessions.

Epps, who was the target of Retzlaff’s ill-advised pass, said the Sooners’ defense was scrambling and a bit out of sorts before the snap, and he was open for a split second before Bowman made the big play.

“It can be a little frustrating, but at the same time you gotta move past it,” Epps said.

That explanation didn’t impress Sitake.

“I am not going to sugarcoat it. Don’t make that throw. Hand the ball off to the running back,” Sitake said. “That is a simple play. Maybe it would be easier to take the pass option away from quarterbacks, but I think that this is a tough lesson for Jake to learn. … You can’t take those risks, especially against a really good team.”

What do offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and Sitake do next in regards to the quarterback situation?

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That’s the big question as BYU (5-6) heads into the final game of the regular season.

After the game, Sitake reiterated what he said last Monday — that Kedon Slovis will get the ball if he’s 100% healthy. Asked whether Retzlaff’s turnover troubles the past two games after he didn’t have any giveaways in the 37-7 loss at West Virginia will play into that decision, Sitake nodded in the affirmative.

“I have seen too many times where quarterbacks have been careless with the football. And not just quarterbacks — other players,” he said. “If you don’t show that you can take care of the football (you won’t play). It is a big part of us. We have had some players that have shown bad ball security, and they just don’t get back on the field again until I see it.

“I don’t want to throw guys under the bus, but I don’t know how else to tell you guys. I want to be honest and transparent. But that’s a really tough lesson to learn when you go through this and we had an opportunity to win this game and get the fans storming the field and stuff like that. And it didn’t work out because one way or another we didn’t take care of the football enough.”