Changes definitely needed to be made. Those changes are being addressed. —BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe
PROVO — BYU’s decline was swift and precipitous.
The Cougars went from 9-4 in coach Kalani Sitake’s first season to plummeting to an abysmal 4-9 last fall.
It was BYU’s first losing season, and first season without a bowl game, since 2004.
As a result, Sitake decided to overhaul the offensive coaching staff, including relieving Ty Detmer — who was a legend as a Cougar quarterback, having won the 1990 Heisman Trophy — of his duties as offensive coordinator.
BYU ranked among the worst in the nation in several offensive categories as it dealt with an inordinate amount of injuries. The Cougars went through four different quarterbacks.
The defense, which also suffered several key injuries, had its own challenges and shortcomings.
In the end, BYU lost nine games for the first time since 1955 and it endured a seven-game losing streak for the first time since 1968.
“That was a year that wasn’t to our standard. Everyone knows anything about BYU football, you could just see it, you could feel it. It wasn’t the standard of football that the coaches, players and administration and fans were used to,” athletic director Tom Holmoe told the media recently. “People become accustomed to a certain style and a certain standard. We didn’t reach it last year. Changes definitely needed to be made. Those changes are being addressed. It wasn’t just an offensive coordinator change. There’s a number of reasons why the standard slipped, and those are things we’ve been addressing from maybe the beginning of the season, early in the season, during the middle of the season to this day. We’ll continue to do the things necessary to make it right and bring back that standard of play.”
Sitake is shaking things up somewhat on the defensive side of the ball, and he will be more heavily involved with the defense next season.
The goal for 2018 is to return to winning and returning to a bowl game, which would require at least six victories.
“It just comes down to, we’ve got to have a good year. If we have a good year, we’re going to be in a bowl,” Holmoe said. “We’ve got to get our team thinking, ‘We’ve got to play.’ This is BYU football. I’m not going to talk myself into a bowl game. We will play ourselves into a bowl game.”
OFFENSE: Just how bad was the Cougar offense in 2017?
BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum looks to pass against Mississippi State at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss., on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017. | Courtesy BYU Photo
Nationally, out of 128 teams, BYU finished No. 90 in passing offense (194.6 yards per game), No. 123 in scoring offense (17.1 points per game), No. 118 in total offense (325.2 ypg), No. 104 in rushing offense (130.5 ypg), No. 120 in turnovers lost (27), No. 125 in passes intercepted (19), No. 94 in third down conversion percentage (.358), No. 111 in first downs gained (215), No. 112 in passing yards per completion (11.1), No. 117 in red-zone offense (.737), No. 117 in pass efficiency (106.56).
No doubt, new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who comes to BYU after serving as the offensive line coach at Louisiana State, has his work cut out for him. While Steve Clark returns to the staff, there are other new faces overseeing the offense — Aaron Roderick, Fesi Sitake and Ryan Pugh.
The Cougars opened the 2017 season with Tanner Mangum at quarterback and he completed 147 of 257 passes for 1,540 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions before his season ended with a torn Achilles at Fresno State.
Freshman Joe Critchlow started three games, completing 55 of 101 passes for 642 yards, four interceptions and three touchdowns. Beau Hoge and Koy Detmer, Jr. both saw limited time.
One of the few highlights of the season was tight end Matt Bushman, who earned Freshman All-American honors after catching 49 passes for 520 yards and three touchdowns.
Running back Squally Canada rushed for a team-high 710 yards and six touchdowns, including a 213-yard performance — the No. 9 all-time single-game rushing game in school history — against UNLV.
When spring ball starts March 5, there will be plenty of intriguing storylines — the kind of offense BYU will run under Grimes and the quarterback competition as several QBs will challenge for the starting job.
BYU's Dayan Ghanwoloku (5) knocks the ball away from East Carolina's Trevon Brown (88) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Greenville, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.| Karl B DeBlaker, AP
In 2016, BYU’s defense hung its hat on forcing turnovers as the Cougars ranked No. 2 nationally with 31 turnovers gained and No. 4 in interceptions (21).
But the ball didn’t bounce BYU’s way in 2017.
The Cougars were No. 81 in takeaways (17).
As a whole, BYU finished No. 51 in total defense (372.8 ypg), No. 83 in third down conversion defense (.406), No. 44 in rushing defense (147.6 ypg), No. 67 in passing yards allowed (225.2 ypg), No. 63 in red zone defense (.830), No. 105 in pass efficiency defense (141.62) and No. 115 in team sacks (1.31 per game).
Linebacker Fred Warner, who is expected to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, led the team in tackles (87) and defensive lineman Sione Takitaki was tops in tackles-for-loss (12.5) and Corbin Kaufusi was No. 1 in sacks (6). Cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku and safety Zayne Anderson each recorded two interceptions and Ghanwoloku had a team-best six pass breakups.
BYU’s defensive coaching staff had one personnel change during the offseason as linebackers coach Steve Kaufusi left the program and Sitake hired Preston Hadley from Weber State to coach the safeties. Ed Lamb will now coach the linebackers in addition to his assistant head coach and special teams coordinator responsibilities.
Wasatch High School's Deseret News First Team All-State kicker, Skyler Southam, sets to kick the first PAT of the 2016 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. | Courtesy Wasatch Wave via Southam family
BYU ranked No. 11 in net punting (41.13 per attempt) and allowed only 64 punt return yards.
Jonny Linehan booted 26 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line and he had 10 punts travel 50 yards or longer. The Cougars were No. 11 in punt return defense.
Place-kicker Rhett Almond was 13 of 19 on field goal attempts and 22 of 23 on PATs.
BYU ranked No. 22 nationally in kick return defense, allowing 18.47 yards per kickoff. On the other hand, the Cougars ranked No. 121 in kickoff returns (17.55 per kick).
While Linehan has graduated, BYU welcomes place-kicker Skyler Southam, a 2015 Army All-American selection, into the program.
LOOK AHEAD: Once again, as an independent, the Cougars face tough teams in 2018, particularly on the road. BYU travels to Arizona (Sept. 1), Wisconsin (Sept. 15), Washington (Sept. 29), Boise State (Nov. 3) and Utah (Nov. 24).
Like last season, the Cougars don’t have a bowl agreement in place in 2018. But BYU needs to get bowl-eligible first before worrying about that.
“The first time we didn’t have a bowl agreement, we didn’t get in,” Holmoe said. “So I’m not liking that.”
The university showed that it is serious about helping turn the football program around by opening its coffers and allocating the most money it ever has on the coaching staff, starting with the hiring of Grimes, who is entering his first season as an offensive coordinator.
Holmoe, a former college head coach at California, has been helping Sitake navigate the choppy waters of being at the helm of a program.
“It was hard on Kalani, for sure,” Holmoe said of last season. “One of the things that is helpful, in my opinion, for our relationship is, I’ve been through what he’s been through. I had success as a coach as an assistant, when I became a head coach, I had struggles. It was difficult. I’ve been through that. I don’t want him to have to go through the things I went through. I can tell him, ‘Hey, you’re going to take this road. Just turn around and come back. It doesn’t lead to anywhere. I’ve been down that road. This is probably the road you want to go down.’ That’s been helpful for me and Kalani. He’s in a good spot right now for sure. I know how difficult it can be on the sideline and in the locker room, with the media after a tough game. I was in anguish with him after those games. One of the things that we’ve talked about is, ‘We’re not doing that again.’ It takes a ton of work to be able to avoid having to go through what we did last year.”
2017 RESULTS (4-9)
Aug. 26 — PORTLAND STATE, won 20-6
Sept. 2 — Louisiana State, lost 27-0
Sept. 9 — UTAH, lost 19-13
Sept. 16 — WISCONSIN, lost 40-6
Sept. 29 — at Utah State, lost 40-24
Oct. 6 — BOISE STATE, lost 24-7
Oct. 14 — at Mississippi State, lost 35-10
Oct. 21 — at East Carolina, lost 33-17
Oct. 28 — SAN JOSE STATE, won 41-20
Nov. 4 — at Fresno State, lost 20-13
Nov. 10 — at UNLV, won 31-21
Nov. 18 — MASSACHUSETTS, lost 16-10
Nov. 25 — at Hawaii, won 30-20
Sept. 1 — at Arizona
Sept. 8 — CALIFORNIA
Sept. 15 — at Wisconsin
Sept. 22 — MCNEESE STATE
Sept. 29 — at Washington
Oct. 5 — UTAH STATE
Oct. 13 — HAWAII
Oct. 27 — NORTHERN ILLINOIS
Nov. 3 — at Boise State
Nov. 10 — at Massachusetts
Nov. 17 — NEW MEXICO STATE
Nov. 24 — at Utah
2017 STATISTICAL LEADERS
All-purpose yards: Squally Canada — 725
Passing yards: Tanner Mangum — 1,540
Receiving yards: Matt Bushman — 520
Rushing yards: Squally Canada — 710
Total offense: Tanner Mangum — 1,538 yards
Touchdowns: Squally Canada — 6
Scoring: Rhett Almond — 61
Forced fumbles: Zayne Anderson — 3
Fumble recoveries: 9 players — 1
Interceptions: Zayne Anderson, Dayan Ghanwoloku — 2
Pass breakups: Dayan Ghanwoloku — 6
Sacks: Corbin Kaufusi — 6
Tackles: Fred Warner — 87
Tackles for loss: Sione Takitaki — 12.5
Punting: Jonny Linehan — 2,572 yards
OL — Tuni Kanuch
OL — Keyan Norman
C — Tejan Koroma
WR — Jonah Trinnaman
TE — Tanner Balderree
DL — Handsome Tanielu
DL — Kesni Tausinga
DB — Micah Hannemann
LB — Fred Warner
LB — Grant Jones
P — Jonny Linehan
QB — Tanner Mangum
QB — Beau Hoge
QB — Joe Critchlow
RB — Squally Canada
TE — Matt Bushman
WR — Micah Simon
WR — Aleva Hifo
FB — Brayden El-Bakri
OL — Thomas Shoaf
OL — Austin Hoyt
DL — Corbin Kaufusi
DL — Khyiris Tonga
LB — Butch Pau’u
S — Zayne Anderson
CB — Dayan Ghanwoloku
CB — Troy Warner
QB — Stacy Conner
QB — Zach Wilson
TE — Joe Tukuafu
WR — Brayden Cosper
OL — Tristen Hoge
OL — James Empey
OL — Harris LaChance
DL — Wayne Tei-Kirby
DL — Earl Mariner
DL — Lorenzo Fauatea
LB — Jeremiah Ieremia
K — Skyler Southam