BYU football: Challenge now for the 3-0 Cougars is to ‘stay humble’ after road win over Arkansas
Up next is a showdown of unbeatens as BYU meets 3-0 Kansas in Lawrence in its first-ever Big 12 game
On the night of Oct. 28, 2022, the BYU Cougars were upset 27-24 by East Carolina at LaVell Edwards Stadium, their fourth-straight loss in one of the worst months in program history.
The program was reeling, and in some circles there were fears that morale was so low that head coach Kalani Sitake’s future was uncertain a year after he had signed an “unprecedented” contract extension.
“It is one win. Talking to the guys, we gotta stay humble, still work hard. … We are really proud of it. But we cannot believe anything, other than we need to get better.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake
Well, look at the Cougars now. They have won seven straight games, tied for the seventh-longest streak in the country with Oregon State and Marshall, after finishing 2022 on a four-game winning streak and jumping out to a 3-0 record in 2023.
The streak has included wins at Boise State and Stanford, a bowl victory over SMU with a fourth-string quarterback and, of course, Saturday’s improbable 38-31 conquest of Arkansas in SEC country. Kalani and the kids are doing all right.
After years and years of hoping, praying, then a couple years of anticipation and preparation, BYU (3-0) plays its first Big 12 conference football game this Saturday, and it is a doozie. The Cougars face also-unbeaten Kansas (3-0) at 1:30 p.m. MDT in Lawrence in a matchup of teams receiving votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
It is one of eight matchups next weekend pitting undefeated teams, and one of the most unlikely given the state of BYU’s program 13 months ago.
Sitake’s task now, he reiterated several times in his postgame news conference after the come-from-behind win over the mistake-prone Hogs, is to make sure his team remains grounded.
“It is one win,” he said after being asked what the upset as 8.5-point underdogs can do for the Cougars. “Talking to the guys, we gotta stay humble, still work hard. … We are really proud of it. But we cannot believe anything, other than we need to get better.”
In many ways, BYU stole this one.
The Cougars overcame an early 14-point deficit, posting the biggest comeback of the Sitake era, which started in 2016.
They were out-gained 424-281, out-passed 247-204 and out-rushed 177-77. Arkansas had more first downs (21-17), more tackles for loss (9-6), ran more total plays (74-57) and possessed the ball for about seven more minutes than BYU.
“You just can’t get away with it like we did tonight very often,” Sitake acknowledged. “Hopefully we can get that fixed by next week.”
Simply put, poise and maturity carried the day for the Cougars, who were also out-mistaked by an Arkansas team that walloped them 52-35 last October in Provo.
BYU won the turnover battle 2-1, sacked KJ Jefferson four times and held the Hogs to 2 of 13 on third down a year after Jefferson and company were 12 of 15 on third down.
“It is not about the stat sheet. Everybody will look at the yards and go, man, we gave up too many big plays and gave up too many yards,” Sitake said. “It is about grasping the momentum. You have to give credit to Arkansas. They made a lot of big-time plays. But we did, too. We had our fair share. The thing was to get into the battle, stay in it, stay in the fight.”
And then let culture take over.
“You have to credit our guys for their resilience, their belief in each other, and just not giving up,” Sitake said. “I think we made some really good steps for our program and our team right now. They believe in each other.”
Receiver Chase Roberts, whose unbelievable one-handed touchdown catch earned him the No. 1 Play of the Day on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” said the message in a celebratory locker room was that the Cougars can’t get ahead of themselves. They can’t get too full of themselves, as perhaps happened last year when they followed the win over Baylor with a flat performance at Oregon.
“It is just another game. Obviously it is momentum for going into conference play. So winning is always the key. But it is just another game,” Roberts said. “Grateful for the win. But we are focused on Kansas now.”
The Jayhawks scored the game-winning touchdown with 6:20 left to hold off Nevada’s upset bid in Reno late Saturday night, prevailing 31-24. Devin Neal’s 3-yard TD run, his third of the game, came after Nevada had tied it with 10:37 left.
Quarterback Jalon Daniels, the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, was 21 of 27 for 298 yards. He was sacked twice.
Four receivers caught four or more balls for 46 or more yards. Kansas’ defense held Nevada to 263 yards.
These aren’t your father’s Jayhawks, and the Cougars already know it.
“We know we are strong. We know we are going to take punches. But we knew we had to fight back and punch back harder, and that is exactly what we did,” said redshirt freshman Parker Kingston. “We stayed resilient and the defense stepped up big when we needed and and the offense stepped up big when we needed to. It was a total team effort.”
Cougars on the air
BYU (3-0) at Kansas (3-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT
David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium (Capacity: 47,233)
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM