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‘We would love to play another game’: Perfect record tarnished, NY6 dream dashed, but BYU still wants 12 games

Two days after losing in heartbreaking fashion, No. 14 Cougars began preparing for Saturday’s showdown with San Diego State on senior night, but say they wouldn’t mind playing on Dec. 19 as well.

SHARE ‘We would love to play another game’: Perfect record tarnished, NY6 dream dashed, but BYU still wants 12 games

BYU wide receiver Dax Milne (5) is interfered with by Boise State cornerback Markel Reed (8) in the end zone as BYU and Boise State play a college football game at Albertsons Stadium in Boise on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Barring a complete and utter miracle, AP No. 14 BYU is not going to get an invitation to a New Year’s Six bowl game after losing to new AP No. 11 Coastal Carolina 22-17 Saturday on the Chanticleers’ teal turf in Conway, South Carolina.

Once again, as BYU has learned the last 10 seasons as a college football independent, when that first loss comes, a good chunk of motivation seemingly flies out the window. Questions regarding what is left to play for invariably get asked.

But coach Kalani Sitake and several players said Monday as preparations began in earnest for Saturday’s senior night showdown with San Diego State at LaVell Edwards Stadium (8 p.m. MST, ESPN2) that not only are they still driven to pile up more wins, they still want to play next weekend as well.

“This loss kind of narrows (BYU’s bowl options) down a little bit more. But depending on when those bowl games are at, if there is a chance (to play Dec. 19), then we would love to play another game.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.

Of course, a lot depends on which bowl game the 9-1 Cougars land in, and when it is scheduled to be played, Sitake noted. Athletic director Tom Holmoe said last week after BYU agreed to fly across the country on two day’s notice to play another nationally ranked team on its home field that television partner ESPN has assured him it will find a bowl game for the Cougars, even as an 11th bowl game — the inaugural LA Bowl — was canceled Monday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This loss kind of narrows (BYU’s bowl options) down a little bit more,” Sitake said. “But depending on when those bowl games are at, if there is a chance (to play Dec. 19), then we would love to play another game.”

That’s true, the coach said, even though it is highly unlikely a win over a nationally ranked or Power Five program would propel BYU back into the conversation for a NY6 bid. The damage has been done.

It probably needs to be said, though, that BYU really had nothing to protect by taking the Coastal game because standing pat last weekend would not have gotten it closer to an NY6 game, several national experts such as Brett McMurphy of Stadium.com and Stewart Mandel of The Athletic noted over the weekend.

This last game didn’t go our way, but we love playing the game and I think getting the guys out there playing as many as we can is still the goal,” Sitake said. “The goal is to get 12 this year, before the bowl game. That’s still out there. If there is still an option, then we would love to play football.”

Most conferences will stage their conference championship games Dec. 19, but some have said their teams are free to schedule other opponents that weekend if they are not involved. The assumption is that such an added game would have to be played away from Provo, where the high temperature Saturday is predicted to be 30 degrees.

“I mean, we want to play as many games as possible,” said BYU junior offensive lineman Brady Christensen. “When they announced that we were playing Coastal Carolina, we were all pumped and jazzed and ready to go. We love to play. And so if it works, it works. If it is possible and there is an opportunity, we would love to play, as players. … if it doesn’t, we are still grateful for the season we have had and we will look forward to a great bowl game, too.”

One bowl — the Frisco Bowl in Texas — is scheduled to be played Dec. 19 and is owned and operated by ESPN Events. Other early bowls owned by ESPN include the Myrtle Beach Bowl on Dec. 21, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Dec. 22, the Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 22 (UCF accepted a bid Monday), the Montgomery Bowl on Dec. 23, the New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 24 and the Camellia Bowl, also in Montgomery, Alabama, on Dec. 25.

Invites to any of those, if accepted, would likely take BYU out of a Dec. 19 game.

“That loss (to Coastal) has honestly put a chip on our shoulder that we are not done yet,” said BYU receiver Dax Milne, who on Monday was named one of 11 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which goes to the top receiver in the country. “We got a lot more to say, and we would like any opportunity we can get to go prove ourselves.”

Regarding what will go down as one of the most heartbreaking plays in BYU football lore, getting stopped at the 1-yard-line as time expired against CCU, Milne said it was “hard to re-live” and an ending that will gnaw at him the rest of his life.

“They were ready for it,” he said. “It was the only thing we could really do. Tough to be a yard short, but it is what it is.”

Meanwhile, Christensen — who said he hasn’t decided yet whether this is his final season in Provo — put the blame for BYU’s offensive struggles upon himself and the offensive line.

“Yeah, we didn’t play good enough to win up front, clearly, or else we would have won that game,” Christensen said. “And that’s on me personally as an older guy and as a leader. I didn’t play good enough personally and I didn’t have my guys ready. But you just learn from it and you move on and you just keep going.”

The Bountiful High product said the Cougars will use the loss to motivate them this week and the remainder of the season.

“I mean, literally this might have been one of our biggest games of all of our lives, and we lost. This sucks. It just sucks. And so I think we are all just going to channel that onto the field and just go work our butts off,” he said. “We had a bad loss, a hard loss. Now we just have to move forward and still be grateful because we understand that was our 10th game, we are going to play our 11th game. We are grateful we get to play during this COVID year.”

A senior, safety Zayne Anderson isn’t ready to see the season end yet, either, although he said it is doubtful he will take advantage of the “free year” being allowed by the NCAA and come back for another.

“We would love to play anyone. I just think playing as many games as we can is a good thing, especially after losing, and trying to get our stock back up there,” Anderson said. “I don’t know what the case is for that, but we all want to play as many games as possible. That’s still the narrative: we want to play anyone, anywhere, and that’s even after taking the loss last week.”

Was it worth it?

Sitake said it was, using his old refrain that the Cougars would play “doubleheaders and back-to-back games” if asked. He also said he’d do it again under a similar scenario — long way from home, short notice, lesser-known opponent, all that — if administrators were on board. 

“These guys, they love playing the game,” he said. “Win or lose, they love playing the best.”