We are a better football team than we’re playing like right now. —BYU football coach Kalani Sitake
PROVO — BYU’s last home game was a rerun of the 2017 season.
BYU’s defense made a cry for help to its brothers on offense in the fourth quarter in Kalani Sitake’s final home game of the 2017 season in LaVell Edwards Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Like most games, this season, the offense, on Senior Day, could not answer the call as UMass defeated BYU 16-10 to hand the Cougars their first losing record at home since 2003, the first nine-loss season since 1955.
Oh, Ty Detmer’s offense tried.
But, like so many things attempted this season, BYU sputtered, and whatever was good was just too little, too late.
“We are a better football team than we’re playing like right now,” said Sitake. “There are a number of things that we wish we could have done out there,” he said. Like grabbing any of UMass’s four fumbles and taking advantage of chances.
What was good was the return of K.J. Hall, his shiftiness, his quickness. And a last-gasp, nine-play, 87-yard touchdown drive in the last minute that ended in a beautiful lob pass from Joe Critchlow to Matt Bushman.
What it showed is if BYU is to be more competitive, it needs more healthy players, a lot better coaching, better talent, and the import of about 800 pounds of Hall-like quickness into this program in the next nine months.
After big-time, fourth-quarter defensive stops, sacks and forced punts that included a season-long, 39-yard fourth-quarter punt return by Michael Shelton, there were chances. But the Cougar offense immediately had a pair of holding penalties and marched backward from the UMass 38.
Before that, it was a dropped pass in the flat by Squally Canada to keep a drive alive. Before that, it was a Critchlow pass at the goal line that sailed through the hands of BYU’s best receiver Bushman for an interception.
And, through it all, it was BYU’s defense doing all it could to slow down UMass’ 30 points a game pass offense, while the Cougars' fourth-string, freshman, walk-on quarterback Critchlow, in his second career start, was sacked seven times for nearly 50 yards He also threw four interceptions.
These kinds of mountains of adversity were too steep for Sitake’s team to maneuver over on Saturday. Detmer needed far more protection of Critchlow, a more effective run output, less crucial penalties and more sharp three quarters from his third starting quarterback of the season in order to have a chance.
It was not there.
“It was a very difficult locker room to face after this game,” said Sitake.
The hope was that Critchlow would feed off his success in piloting the win at UNVL in his starting debut. But where the Rebel defense was fairly vanilla and Critchlow excelled, UMass mixed its blitzes, coverages and pre-snap looks and it took its toll on the walk-on freshman, fourth-string rookie.
His pocket collapsed quickly and often. He made errant passes. He suffered from tipped passes that found its way into enemy hands. Unlike at UNLV, the game sped up on him and he struggled.
UMass sacked Critchlow four times in the first 32 minutes. He constantly had to step forward in a collapsing pocket. He was not accurate; his timing was not the same. He faced a far better defense, ranked in the top 30 in pass-efficiency defense, and it showed.
You’d have to call out BYU’s offensive line, too. In this game, they failed their QB. UMass had only 13 sacks this season, and they got more than 50 percent of the season’s 10-game totals on BYU with that seven.
That, in a nutshell, is a massive failure, even if some of it were on Critchlow for not unloading the ball.
Where BYU also struggled was in getting pressure and sacking UMass QB Andrew Ford. UMass came in as the worst team in the country at preventing sacks. The very worse.
Sione Takitaki did have a signature sack on Ford on a third-down conversion try just before the half, stopping a deep drive inside BYU’s 15. But generally, Ford and his chemistry with receivers versus Critchlow's rookie experience showed. Corbin Kaufusi added a sack in the second half.
By the middle of the second quarter, with BYU’s offense sputtering and crossing midfield just once, UMass began zeroing in on BYU’s secondary with quick slants, posts and sideline timing routes and took control of the game.
BYU did a better job after UMass scored on its first possession of the second half. But, with little help from the offense, it was a replay of the season. This time, credit the defense for not giving up and fighting until the end and holding UMass’s experienced offense to half its season point average.
You could also credit the offense for scoring on their final possession of the game. People made big plays against the UMass prevent defense.
But it was 59 minutes and four quarters too late.