Kalani Sitake inherits experienced players, arduous schedule in first season at BYU
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
State of football in 2016
PROVO — While Kalani Sitake watched the Las Vegas Bowl last month, on the day that he was named BYU’s new head coach, he liked what he saw on the field from his players in the Cougars’ 35-28 loss to Utah.
BYU fell behind 35-0 in the opening moments of the game due to five consecutive turnovers but battled back to make it a one-score game late in the fourth quarter, nearly completing the comeback.
“I was impressed with the fight in our young men, just the drive that they had,” Sitake said. “They turned the whole momentum of the game, which was really impressive. I saw a lot of leaders take control of the game and how they were able to swing the momentum quickly after that first quarter.”
Sitake is hoping that determination carries on during the offseason heading into the 2016 campaign.
The former Cougar fullback also likes the talent that returns from a team that posted a 9-4 record after losing starting quarterback Taysom Hill in the season-opener at Nebraska.
In his place, freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum put up remarkable numbers and displayed uncommon poise and moxie.
In addition to Mangum, the Cougars return a bunch of experienced players next season. Several highly-regarded newcomers will also join the team.
“We have a lot of good, talented, driven, outstanding young men on this team,” said Sitake, who added that he has lofty expectations for his program.
“For me, I want to be great in everything,” the coach said. “With these players, I want to be great in everything. I think if you strive to do that, the rest will follow.”
One of the goals of the new coaching staff is to install a new system on offense and defense while capitalizing on the abilities of the returning players and newcomers. That process will be accelerated during spring practices in March.
“The playbook’s wide open. I’ll give those guys as much as they can handle,” said new offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. “If it’s too much, then we’ll pull back and focus more on the basics With the guys we have, and the experience they have, I feel like we’ll be able to open it up pretty good and be able to have a full playbook by the time we get to that first game.”
Detmer, the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner, said he’ll give the quarterbacks plenty of responsibility in this offense.
“I put a lot on the quarterbacks’ shoulders,” he said. “We’re going to shift and motion and they have to be able to handle all that and get people set up. They’re going to have to understand the whole package.”
In addition to Mangum, Detmer would love to have Hill, a graduated senior, at his disposal.
“I said it a couple of years ago, he’s probably the greatest athlete to play the quarterback position here,” Detmer said. “No offense to Steve Young but Taysom’s put together a lot better than Steve was Taysom’s a great player. We want him back. He’s been a leader for this team and unit. I told the guys, ‘There should be competition at every position. That’s what makes you great.' Not that you can’t work together through it. Everybody just needs to focus on being the best player they can be and let the coaches figure out the rest.”
First-year defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, meanwhile, is evaluating BYU’s defensive scheme and the personnel. For years under coach Bronco Mendenhall, the Cougars ran a 3-4 alignment, but Sitake and Tuiaki have been coaching a 4-3 defense.
“On defense, we’ll be aggressive. That’s what we’re going to hang our hat on,” Sitake said. “We need to establish the line of scrimmage and own the trenches. That’s what we’re going to try to do as we piece together our identity. We want to be well-balanced on offense and aggressive on defense.”
Sitake and his staff will face what could be the toughest schedule in school history next fall, which kicks off against Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sept. 3 in Glendale, Arizona. The slate also includes games against Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, Michigan State and Mississippi State.
“The opportunity that we have to play these teams on our schedule this year, I’m fired up for it,” Sitake said.
Detmer is also excited for his first season coaching at BYU.
“I’ve had butterflies ever since I took the job. I wake up at 5 in the morning (thinking) ‘We’re going to do this,’” he said. “There have been some sleepless nights. But I’m looking forward to getting to the games. I enjoy the game-planning side of things and scheming against teams and how we beat this coverage and how do we protect against this blitz. I’m really looking forward to going out with the team and being a part of it.”
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