PROVO — For BYU, one era ended Saturday at the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl and a new one began.
In the Cougars’ 35-28 loss to Utah, Bronco Mendenhall coached his last game at BYU. After the game, athletic director Tom Holmoe announced that Kalani Sitake, who has spent the past year as the defensive coordinator at Oregon State, will now lead the program.
Sitake, 40, will be formally introduced during a press conference Monday as BYU’s 14th football coach.
“He is an outstanding leader and coach, an exceptional recruiter and knows BYU through and through,” Holmoe said of Sitake. “We look forward to having Kalani build on the great tradition of BYU football.”
“I’m honored, excited and humbled by the opportunity to lead the BYU football program,” Sitake said in a statement Saturday. “I’m grateful for everything BYU gave me as a player. It’s a dream come true for me to return home. I love the university and what it stands for and I’m looking forward to helping the young men in the program reach their goals athletically, academically and spiritually. I want to thank Tom Holmoe, President (Kevin) Worthen and the administration for their faith and trust. I’m excited to get to work and continue the incredible legacy of BYU football.” One area of emphasis for Sitake to focus on — and an aggravating trend he’ll look to reverse — is the Cougars’ record against Utah.
The Utes have now won five consecutive meetings in the rivalry for the first time since they won six straight from 1959-1964.
That losing streak will be on the line early in Sitake’s tenure in 2016. On Sept. 10, his second game as BYU’s coach, the Cougars visit Utah.
BYU finished the season with a 9-4 record and it returns a lot of experience heading into the 2016 campaign. Quarterback Tanner Mangum offers the Cougars hope for a bright future.
The freshman completed 25 of 56 passes for 315 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions against Utah. After a dreadful start — he threw three interceptions (two of those were tipped in the air before being picked) and he fumbled once —Mangum settled down, rebounded and led BYU’s gutty comeback, featuring 28 unanswered points.
“Tanner is an optimist and that's a great quality to have at quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “He thinks he can make any throw and who are we to tell him any different. And even after 35-0, we weren't going to score points just by running it. Our M.O. has been dropping back and throwing it, and having our receivers go up and make catches and that kind of played out. To Utah's credit, the defensive front, they were on him very fast and harassed him maybe more than he's used to. Nobody was down on him, we were frustrated, but our guys believed in Tanner.”
“Tanner's not a freshman to any one in the locker room. Tanner's one of us,” said senior tight end Remington Peck. “He's mature. You can tell how he bounced back. I think the game was a little big for him at the beginning, but man he turned around and played a great game and ultimately gave us a chance to have the ball at the end.”
In his final game at BYU, Mendenhall’s team got off to a horrendous start as it had five turnovers on its first five possessions. The Utes took advantage of those miscues to score five touchdowns in the opening 10 minutes of the game.
“There was certainly nothing else that can happen, when it goes to seven and then to 14 then to 21 then to 28 then to 35, at some point that's got to be enough,” he said.
But Mendenhall, who, along with six of his assistants are headed to Virginia, was proud of the way his team battled back to pull within seven points in the final few minutes.
“I think there was just finally a set point of ‘are we going to play clean and execute and consistently?' and we thought if we did it would be an evenly matched game and that's how it played out,” he said. “The credit goes to the players, they're the ones that chose to keep playing hard. They were positive on the sideline, which is an amazing thing. It was 35-0 and I don't even know how much time had expired. It could've easily gone to 70 if they hadn't of responded the way they did.”