PROVO — After suffering a 45-20 drubbing at the hands of Utah State last Friday night, BYU has reached the halfway point of the season.
Coach Kalani Sitake and his staff are re-evaluating everything.
“We talked about it in the locker room. We’re not playing BYU football,” Sitake said. “We’re not playing our style of football and utilizing our strengths. We have an extra day to really evaluate all of it from top to bottom and get this thing right so we can start on Monday and get a game plan and get ready for the Hawaii game.”
The Cougars (3-3) are experiencing a midseason identity crisis — and the trajectory of a once-promising season is trending downward.
“That’s just not us. Last week wasn’t us. This week wasn’t us,” said linebacker Zayne Anderson. “Those first three games we kind of built our identity as a tough, smart team. I feel like we’ve fallen away from that. We need to get back to what we do.”
In the space of less than a month, BYU has gone from the euphoria of upsetting then-No. 6 Wisconsin on the road to losing to in-state foe Utah State at home by 25 points.
A little more than one week ago, the Cougars were ranked No. 20 in the nation. They have been outscored 80-27 since, including a 35-7 loss to Washington.
Yes, it’s been a precipitous fall from 3-1 to 3-3.
Against USU, BYU imploded on offense, defense and special teams.
The Cougars rushed for 39 yards — and 26 of those came on a scramble by backup quarterback Zach Wilson late in the game.
“In three games, we had an identity of running the ball,” Sitake said. “We’ll evaluate everything and find what we’re about.”
Quarterback Tanner Mangum completed 27 of 45 passes for 270 yards, two touchdowns, one interception (a costly pick-six in the first quarter) and a fumble.
After falling behind 21-0 in the first half, the Cougars threw the ball frantically to try to cut the deficit.
“With every game, you come in with a game plan. Some games we’re run-heavy and some games we’re pass-heavy. When you go down 21-zip in the first half, you’ve got to start throwing the ball,” said tight end Matt Bushman, who caught four passes for 78 yards. “You have to take shots. That’s what we had to do. It was unfortunate. You have make changes and that’s what we had to do this game. We couldn’t run it as much because we were trailing in this game. We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”
The Aggies ran for 223 yards, including 109 by running back Darwin Thompson. Quarterback Jordan Love completed 18 of 28 passes for 165 yards and four TDs.
USU converted 5 of 12 on third downs while the Cougars were merely 1 of 9.
“They came out more excited than we did. We had chances to make plays. It was one missed block, one missed assignment,” Bushman said. “We got stuffed the first couple of drives. We were one of nine on third-down conversions, and that’s not good at all. You’re not going to win a game if you can’t get third down completions.”
On special teams, placekicker Skyler Southam missed a 43-yard field goal and an extra point.
One of the most glaring mistakes was the defense’s poor tackling.
“We missed a lot of tackles. That’s not going to help you when you’re missing tackles. Utah State did a good job of getting their guys in space against our guys and we failed to tackle them consistently,” Sitake said. “It allowed drives to keep going. Their quarterback is a great quarterback. He’s poised and he ran their offense really well and caused us to struggle on defense.”
“That’s our pride and joy is stopping the run. That’s what our defense is,” Anderson said. “It comes down to executing and tackling. We’re not doing the right fundamentals right now.”
“We just need to tackle better. We let some slip,” said linebacker Sione Takitaki. “That comes with preparation and fundamentals. We let a lot get by. … We’re in the right places to make plays but we’re not making plays.”70 comments on this story
So BYU will spend the long weekend tending to its wounds, many self-inflicted. And the coaches will examine everything and try to find ways to stop their team’s slide.
“There’s nothing I’m not open to. I’m open to all of it being evaluated. That’s my job as a head coach to make sure that we perform better,” Sitake said. “We haven’t played well enough as a team. We had three really good games, and I felt we had an identity and knew what we were about. We need to find a way to rally that back.”