I'm very disappointed about the loss. I'm disappointed for the seniors and the entire season. —Kalani Sitake
PROVO — It didn’t seem possible, the way the 2017 season has gone for BYU, but the Cougars hit a new low Saturday afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
With a 16-10 loss to UMass on Senior Day, it marks the first time BYU has lost nine games in a season since 1955.
This latest setback came against a Minutemen team the Cougars (3-9) beat here a year ago, 51-9. With the win, UMass (4-7) snapped a 10-game road losing streak in front of an announced crowd of 51,355 in BYU's final home game.
“I’m very disappointed about the loss. I’m disappointed for the seniors and the entire season,” said coach Kalani Sitake. “It’s the lowest point for all of us.”
Saturday’s loss followed a familiar script — BYU struggled to score points.
Entering the game, UMass was vulnerable against the run, and the Cougars ran for 265 yards in last week’s win at UNLV.
Making his second career start, and his first one at home, freshman Joe Critchlow completed 21 of 45 passes for 257 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. Critchlow was also sacked seven times for minus-46 yards by a team that ranked No. 112 in the nation in sacks.
“We threw the ball too much,” Sitake said. “Coming off a good week of running the ball, we got a little behind and we tried to catch up.”
“We had a pretty nice game plan set up. Obviously, the way the game went and the way the defense adjusted led us to pass the ball a little more,” Critchlow said. “I feel like our lack of success throwing the ball can be (attributed) to my misreads and misthrows. I feel like we left a lot of big plays on the field tonight.”
UMass led 16-0 late in the third quarter. BYU didn’t get on the scoreboard until 1:35 left in that period when Rhett Almond drilled a 40-yard field goal.
In the fourth quarter, the Cougars had their chances to stage a comeback.
With 12 minutes left in the game, Critchlow threw a pass into the end zone on fourth-and-20 that slipped through the hands of tight end Matt Bushman and was intercepted by UMass.
“It seemed like a lot of things went wrong when we needed them to go right,” Sitake said.
With 3:24 remaining, BYU was facing fourth-and-27 when Critchlow completed a pass to Micah Simon for 26 yards, one yard short of the first down.
“I tried to get as close to the sticks as possible,” Simon said. “I couldn’t reach over and get the first down, which was unfortunate.”
Besides those big plays, the Cougars yielded a bunch of sacks, were whistled for costly penalties, dropped passes and surrendered four turnovers.
BYU scored its only touchdown with 53 seconds remaining on a 6-yard pass from Critchlow to Bushman. The Cougars' ensuing onside kick attempt failed.
Meanwhile, UMass quarterback Andrew Ford completed 21 of 35 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown. His stable of receivers made timely catches, picking up key third downs all afternoon.
The Minutemen scored only one touchdown — a 40-yard pass from Ford to wide receiver Andy Isabella — early in the third quarter, but that TD put the Cougars in a bigger hole.
“Where we are as a team, we don’t really have room to allow anyone to score any points,” said senior defensive lineman Handsome Tanielu. “It’s obvious that we have a hard time to scoring so the best way to win is to not let the other team score. We put ourselves in a bad situation by allowing them to gain momentum and move the ball.”
As a senior, what has Tanielu learned from this year’s struggles?
“Every game has to be your ‘last game’ effort. We’ve been in games where we’ve been up and we lose,” he said. “We’ve been in games where we’ve been down and worked our way back up and lost. I feel like every play has to mean something. And that was the great thing about a lot of the seniors last year — they knew the situation and they knew how to control it and they knew how to play.”
For those players who will be back next season, what have they learned?
“I think the lesson to learn is to not let this happen again. We need to find a way to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said sophomore defensive lineman Trajan Pili. “There is something to learn in every loss and every win, something to gain from that. We’re going to take that right when this season ends and start putting that in the offseason with winter workouts. We know what we don’t want to happen It won’t happen again next year. For us as a young team and a young group, I feel like it won’t.”
The Cougars have one more game left this season — next Saturday at Hawaii, which was throttled at Utah State Saturday, 38-0.
At this point, all BYU wants is to finish the season with a win and hope for better times ahead.
“We’ve got to rally back and find a way to perform this week,” Sitake said. “You can’t get down on yourself right now. We have one game left to play. This is definitely a disappointing season. We’ve got one more to springboard us to next season.”