BYU players and coaches spent much of last week talking about how they still believed in each other, then went out Saturday and proved it against the No. 14 team in college football.
Sure, the Oklahoma Sooners took a 31-24 win over the Cougars in front of more than 63,000 fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium to put one more dagger into BYU’s fading bowl eligibility hopes, but there was a night and day difference in the postgame news conference compared to the previous week’s 45-13 loss to Iowa State.
“What I was proud of was the battle in the trenches. When it looked like in some of the other games we were maybe overmatched or we weren’t in the right spot. … This one, I felt like the guys were fighting back and forth. It is not like we dominated them up front (or) they dominated us.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake
Coach Kalani Sitake said he saw a possible upset coming. Maybe that’s why he opened last Monday’s press briefing by saying after reviewing film of the Iowa State debacle that he had “a lot of excitement for what we can get done this week with a quality opponent in Oklahoma, and a great team that is ranked.”
After the Cougars committed three turnovers that kept them from pulling off what would have been the upset of the day in college football as 24-point underdogs, Sitake said he was envisioned that Senior Day would end with the students storming the field.
“We felt like we had a shot at this,” he said. “… This one felt like it was a missed opportunity from us.”
He wasn’t wrong. After almost everybody in the country and the media, let alone the fanbase, had written them off due to the back-to-back poundings they took at the hands of the Cyclones and West Virginia, the Cougars rose up and played like they belonged in a Power Five league.
They went toe-to-toe with the Sooners (9-2) and their powerful offense, a confidence-booster that should serve them well when they travel to Stillwater on Saturday to face No. 21 Oklahoma State (8-3) at Boone Pickens Stadium. Kickoff is at 1:30 p.m. MST time, it was announced late Saturday night, and the game will be televised by ABC.
Against Oklahoma, which lost 27-24 to the Cowboys in the last scheduled Bedlam rivalry game the same day BYU was getting drubbed 37-7 by West Virginia, the Cougars ran for 217 yards and passed for 173, while OU had 144 rushing yards and 224 passing yards.
Both teams ran 64 plays; BYU finished with 390 yards, while OU finished with 368. After admitting that BYU was “manhandled” in the trenches by West Virginia and ISU in the previous two games, Sitake sang a different tune after playing Oklahoma almost evenly.
“What I was proud of was the battle in the trenches,” Sitake said. “When it looked like in some of the other games we were maybe overmatched or we weren’t in the right spot. … This one, I felt like the guys were fighting back and forth. It is not like we dominated them up front (or) they dominated us.”
Sitake said he doesn’t believe in “moral victories,” but if there were ever a time to do that, it would have been Saturday, when the Cougars put a major scare into a big-time opponent.
“Oklahoma is a really good team, man,” Sitake said. “I know Dillon (Gabriel) wasn’t able to come back and play (after suffering a head injury in the first half). They have good players all over the place, and great depth. And that is what we are trying to build here.”
Even Oklahoma coach Brent Venables was impressed by the game the Cougars played Saturday.
“What a heck of an effort that was by BYU,” Venables said. “They’ve played really well at home. … They take great pride and are very passionate. We gave them a little bit of hope early. This is a great atmosphere and a really cool place. The players showed they have great belief and great pride in the jersey that they put on every Saturday, especially at home.”
After three weeks when it seemed like the Cougars were regressing, the performance against OU can spark more belief that Sitake and company are on the right track, the coach said. Can they keep it going in the season finale, knowing that they haven’t come close to winning a Big 12 game on the road?
That will be the big question this week, along with which quarterback Sitake and offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick will select to start, Jake Retzlaff or Kedon Slovis.
Retzlaff’s running ability opened up opportunities for Aidan Robbins to run for 182 yards, but his three turnovers prevented the first field storming at LES since BYU upset No. 9 Baylor 26-20 in 2022.
Slovis is more experienced and takes care of the ball better at this stage of his career, but hasn’t shown the escapability or ability to keep defenses honest with his running plays that Retzlaff has. It’s a tough call.
“Regardless of who plays quarterback, they are going to have to be a threat to run the ball, too, and create with their legs,” Sitake said. “Whether it is Kedon or Jake next week, we are going to have to see that from them.”
Cougars on the air
BYU (2-6, 5-6) at Oklahoma State (6-2, 8-3)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MST
Boone Pickens Stadium
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM