For the first time since a 30-6 win over Washington State and a 45-13 conquest of Weber State in 2012, the BYU Cougars are opening a college football season with two consecutive home games in 2023.

That little blessing from the football gods seems much-needed this year after the way the BYU offense performed in Saturday night’s uninspiring 14-0 win over a plucky Sam Houston team that was predicted to lose by three touchdowns.

“We have seen our offense perform better than that, so I expect them to be better. There are some issues we need to fix, and a lot of them I think are fixable and it comes on us coaches to handle it. For some reason, it was flat, and not good enough.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

BYU (1-0) plays host to Southern Utah (0-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday looking to go 2-0 for the fourth straight season.

Despite having what offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said were upgrades at every offensive position except quarterback — he said Kedon Slovis replacing Jaren Hall was a “wash” — BYU’s lackluster attack against the Bearkats resembled something from that 4-9 season in 2017 when it failed to cross the 50-yard line in a 27-0 loss to LSU and mustered just 10 points in a loss to lowly UMass.

“We have seen our offense perform better than that, so I expect them to be better (against SUU),” coach Kalani Sitake said after the Cougars put up only 14 points and 257 yards. At least they were fairly balanced, rushing for 112 and passing for 145.

“There are some issues we need to fix, and a lot of them I think are fixable and it comes on us coaches to handle it. For some reason, it was flat and not good enough.”

To be fair, Slovis was without two of his top weapons, receivers Kody Epps and Keanu Hill

“I knew Kody was (going to be) out. I knew Kebo (Hill) would be a game-time decision, but we have a lot of confidence in the next guys up. That’s why we added depth to that room so we could still play (at a high level),” Slovis said after completing 20 of 33 passes.

“Hoping to get those guys back, though, and obviously the amount of production they have had in the past, they will be huge for us.”

Hill had 36 catches for 572 yards in 2022, while Epps had 39 grabs for 459 yards. Missing were explosive plays that BYU fans became accustomed to seeing from Puka Nacua, Gunner Romney, Neil Pau’u and Tyler Allgeier the past two years.

BYU’s longest play was a 21-yard run by true freshman LJ Martin and its longest reception was 18 yards by Eastern Michigan transfer Darius Lassiter.

Sitake said the offense’s performance was “humbling,” but not in a good way.

“It seemed like when we tried to get some momentum, penalties would stop the momentum,” he said. “So there is definitely some room for improvement, and we will work on that. Week 1 to Week 2 we can make a lot of improvement.”

Sitake said in fall camp he saw the offense “be really explosive” against a BYU defense that gave up just 185 yards — 38 on the ground — to Sam Houston and allowed the Bearkats to cross the 50 only once.

Presumably, Hill and Epps were limited in camp and not part of that explosiveness.

“We gotta get that back. I feel like it is attainable. We gotta stop shooting ourselves in the foot. … I mean, we had late calls and had to take some timeouts and things like that. That is a momentum killer,” Sitake said.

“That is stuff we can fix and can kinda handle on the coaching part, and I gotta be better at demanding that from our offense.”

The offense’s two major offseason acquisitions, Slovis and UNLV transfer running back Aidan Robbins, made disappointing debuts in Cougar blue, and both knew it.

Robbins had just 23 yards on seven carries, a 3.3 average, and was replaced by Martin in the second half as Roderick and running backs coach Harvey Unga went searching for a spark.

‘Too many long faces’: Why BYU’s 14-0 win over Sam Houston in inaugural football game as a Big 12 member was less than satisfying
Jakob Robinson, Ryan Rehkow, Jay Hill’s new defense steal the show in BYU’s season opener win

“I don’t want to blame it on the running backs, because it was not like everything was blocked up really nicely to begin with,” Sitake said.

“We really pride ourselves on having big, physical O linemen. It just wasn’t good enough from them at the line of scrimmage.”

That was somewhat evident on BYU’s second touchdown, when Slovis’ first attempt at a QB sneak was snuffed. He barely got in on his second attempt on third-and-goal. Throughout the night, BYU rarely blew SHU’s undersized defensive line off the ball.

As expected, Utah transfer Paul Maile got the start at center, while Connor Pay and Weylin Lapuaho were the guards and Caleb Etienne and Kingsley Suamataia were the tackles.

“We gotta play like more of a unit on the front line with the five guys blocking,” Sitake said. “So once we do that, we get the rhythm back. I am looking forward to the next showing. I am just looking forward to next week. Just want to get there quickly.”

Cougars on the air

Southern Utah (0-1)
at BYU (1-0)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MDT
Provo, Utah
TV: Big 12 Now on ESPN+
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

Sitake said the “competition is always going to be there” when he was asked if Martin will supplant Robbins and Deion Smith on the depth chart and rise to RB2 or RB1, saying only that the El Paso, Texas, product “looked a little bit like Tyler Allgeier out there with some of the runs and the vision that he had.”

Credit Slovis for putting the blame for the offense’s struggles on his own shoulders.

“Not happy with my play,” he said. “I have high expectations for myself. I have higher expectations for the offense, and really everybody felt that way after the game. … There were times when the offense was moving better, but too many self-inflicted mistakes and … we didn’t connect on any of our (deep) shots. We gotta be better in that aspect.”

Asked if he was “pressing too much,” Slovis said that wasn’t the case in the 38th start of his college career.

“I think you gotta let the game come to you a little bit,” he said, “and I think most of it came down to execution.”