I think everyone has the mindset that this is a new season for us. The second half of the season is completely new. —BYU defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi
GREENVILLE, N.C. — As dreadful as this season has been for BYU, the Cougars still have a shot, mathematically and theoretically, at playing in a bowl game in December.
“This week, there’s an energy that we can feel at practice,” said BYU defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi. “I think everyone has the mindset that this is a new season for us. The second half of the season is completely new."
This “new season” begins Saturday (5 p.m., MDT, CBSSN) when the Cougars take on another 1-6 team, East Carolina.
“Because it’s a brand new half of the season, we’ve got to win this first game,” Kaufusi said. “We’re going to win. That’s the mindset.”
BYU has one of the nation’s worst offenses and ECU has one of the nation’s worst defenses.
The Cougars have hope that this is the week they can finally turn things around, especially offensively. The Pirates surrender an average of 50 points per game while BYU averages 11.4 points per game.
“We’ll continue to pound the rock with Ula (Tolutau) and Brayden (El-Bakri),” said wide receiver Neil Pau’u. “We’ll see what else we can exploit. We definitely believe at the receiver position we can hold our own and that Tanner will make good decisions.”
The back half of the Cougars’ schedule includes some teams that are also struggling. But can they pull things together?
“The focus is still on what we can do,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “If you look at the teams we’ve played so far this year, we really haven’t played a complete game as a team and where I feel like we were good in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is. We need to find a way to do that. It’s sad to say that at midseason but it has to happen this week. That’s what it comes down to.”
BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u is confident his team can finish the season strong.
“We’re optimistic and we think we can pull off six straight. We know each team is going to come at us very hard,” he said. “They’re seeking wins as well. It’s going to be a tough six games these last six but I think we can pull it off. I think more offensive production will definitely happen this upcoming week starting with East Carolina.”
The Cougars haven’t won a game since Aug. 26 against Portland State. They haven’t beaten an FBS opponent this year.
What would a victory, and an end to the ignominious losing streak, mean to this team?
“It will mean the world because it will bring more motivation to come back and play,” Butch Pau’u said. “You see some motivation drop and that’s normal when you lose a game. You lose a second game and a third game and you’re still not winning. It’s tough. I’m one of the positive guys on the team so I’m excited to come every day.
"The mentality is still there, the passion is still there. But I feel like it’s not as quite there as the beginning of the season," Pau’u continued. "It would mean the world to change this whole thing around and have these guys say, ‘We’re really not as bad as everyone thinks we are at 1-6.’ I feel like if we win this game, things are going start flying for us. That comes down to us doing our assignments.”
Pau’u said that after BYU’s 35-10 drubbing at the hands of Mississippi State last week, some of the seniors were in tears in the locker room.
“Seeing that type of reaction after the Mississippi State loss kind of hit me and other guys, letting us know that we don’t have much time with guys, not only these guys but we don’t have much time left in the season to go and waste a game,” he said. “If we waste another game, then, dang, I feel bad for the seniors. They don’t go to a bowl. They’ve been going to bowls since they first got here. They’ve never missed one. It’s time and the guys understand that so we will step up this week.”
* * *
Cougars on the air
at East Carolina (1-6)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM