PROVO — The poster Sunday morning in the downtown post office — Wanted: BYU offense, million-dollar reward for any information leading to any information on its location. Contact Kalani Sitake.
BYU’s offense disappeared just after intermission in Saturday’s 21-18 loss to the University of California. It fell in a sinkhole, it got lost in the grass, or it was beamed up by aliens.
After dominating Cal in almost every statistical category but the 7-3 halftime score, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes found his star back Squally Canada stopped cold, and his quarterback Tanner Mangum’s confidence on sabbatical on his 25th birthday. Receivers dropped passes, first downs became Mount Everest. It all left BYU’s playmaking, three-turnover-gaining defense frustrated.
“Too many mistakes and not enough time to fix them,” said head coach Kalani Sitake. “I credit Cal, but we didn’t make enough plays our errors were driving killers."
Sitake put the blame on himself and said his coaching staff would take the responsibility for the loss. But he admitted it didn’t help that passes were dropped, assignments were missed, and there was a breakdown in communication.
“We have to continue to believe in each other,” said senior middle linebacker Butch Pau’u.
Mangum did mount a last-minute scoring drive that ended with a one-yard TD pass to Brayden El-Bakri to close a 21-10 Cal lead to 21-18 with 51 seconds to play. But the futility of Grimes’s offense to mount any kind of attack in the third and fourth quarters doomed the Cougars and brought back memories of 2017.
- Cal outgained BYU 210 yards to 12 in the third quarter.
- BYU ran 48 plays in the first half but just six in the third quarter.
- BYU had four possessions where it gained just four total yards in the middle of the game.
- Cal had the ball for 10:16 the entire first half and 11:26 in the third quarter.
BYU’s defense scored on a 36-yard third quarter fumble recovery and return by Dayan Ghanwoloku. He also recovered a muffed punt to set up a first and ten at Cal’s 21 and subsequent first and ten at the 16 and the Cougar offense got absolutely nothing with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
You have to credit defensive-minded Cal coach Justin Wilcox for major adjustments that took BYU’s Canada off his run game and out of BYU’s offense in the third. It forced Mangum to beat his defender with his arm on first-, second- and third-down long yardage situations and he could not.
It wasn’t all on Mangum. He had Micah Simon drop two passes, Dylan Collie dropped a long bomb, and Brayden El-Bakri dropped a sideline pass in the third quarter that would have extended a drive.
Those were deja vu moments for BYU’s offensive players, and the defense.
Moroni Laulu-Pututau said BYU had a “lull” in Wednesday’s practice as an offense, and it is up to the leaders to take care of that. “We had the right game plan coming in, we just made too many mistakes.
El-Bakri said those mistakes can be fixed. “There is no doubt we have the guys who will work hard to correct the things we struggled with tonight, I guarantee it.”
Cal ended up outgaining BYU 398 to 287 and holding the Cougars to just 6 of 17 third-down attempts. Credit the Bears and their speed and stealth on defense.
Obviously, BYU’s success at Arizona can now be couched in the knowledge that Cal’s defense is far superior. But can BYU’s fledgling offense with its senior signal-caller advance the cause after really failing to deliver at home?
Mangum ended up completing 22 of 41 passes for 196 yards with one touchdown and his first two interceptions of the year. Canada, who had 12 carries for 56 yards at halftime, ended up with 56 yards on 16 carries for the game. That bright spot in Arizona got shut down fast after halftime, in fact, it went backward.
And that containment of Canada seemed to throw BYU’s entire offensive scheme off-kilter for the night.
If you look back at the Arizona win, BYU’s offense had one good quarter, the 21-point third. Grimes thought his guys left a hundred yards and two scores on the field.
Against Cal, you could say, BYU legitimately left one touchdown out there on Ghandwoloku’s recovery of that mishandled fourth-quarter punt. It should have been a punch-in score. And with a few crucial third-down conversions, other drives could have ended in points or at least, some field goals.
The rest of the game, BYU’s offense was either stymied or looked like hamsters on a wheel.
For a home opener, this wasn’t what the program needed. The Arizona win had to be a stepping stone, and this was a walk into a moat.