PROVO — After posting a losing season in 2017 and failing to get to the postseason for the first time in 13 years, BYU is now one win away from returning to the bowl business.
The Cougars (5-5) can clinch bowl eligibility Saturday (8:15 p.m., MST, ESPN2) when they host New Mexico State.
“We’re really motivated because we want to go to a bowl game. We want to win out,” said senior linebacker Sione Takitaki. “We’re really motivated going into this game and getting that sixth win to go to a bowl game because we didn’t go to one last year. That’s really important getting these next few wins.”
Saturday also happens to be Senior Night and the home finale.
“We’re hungry (to get bowl eligible),” said senior running back Matt Hadley. “Setting the Senior Night aside, that’s one of our big focuses this week. Obviously, New Mexico State as an opponent but then to accomplish one of our goals is huge for us this week. We still have to take care of our jobs this weekend and play like we can.”
Coach Kalani Sitake said all of the attention this week is the upcoming game against the Aggies (3-7).
“I’m not really focused on anything but trying to get the win,” he said. “We’re just trying to focus on the task right now and that’s to get this win.”
But he also acknowledged that going to a bowl game has plenty of benefits.
“Looking at the amount of practices that you get from being bowl eligible, that’s something that really helps a program out, especially when you have a lot of young guys and inexperienced players,” Sitake said. “It gives you another spring ball type of deal. That’s an important part of building a program is doing that. Right now, we just have to win that game and we’ll find out the rest later.”
Sitake is not concerned about his team looking ahead to a visit to archrival Utah next week. It was announced Monday that kickoff for that game will be at 8 p.m. and will be televised on FSI on Nov. 24.
“These guys have been pretty good about it. All that matters right now is New Mexico State and that we keep progressing and keep growing,” Sitake said. “I’ve seen a lot of momentum building up from our team, especially after this last week. I expect it to go into this week. We’ll see how we prep. But I imagine our guys will be focused on what matters most and that’s New Mexico State.”
Last Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the Cougars snapped a two-game losing streak with a 35-16 victory over UMass.
BYU overcame an early 10-0 deficit and played a relatively clean game, aside from an Aleva Hifo fumble on the first play from scrimmage.
The Cougars gave up zero sacks, didn’t commit any crippling penalties on the offensive side of the ball, rushed for 221 yards, scored touchdowns on five trips to the red zone, and converted 6 of 12 third-down attempts.
“We didn’t make as many mistakes as far as penalties. Our guys are playing a lot faster and they’re not thinking as much,” Sitake said. “Obviously, we wanted to see this earlier. But the execution is a lot better and we’re a lot cleaner.”
Sitake liked the way his team dealt with adverse circumstances against the Minutemen.
“It was two time zones away and our guys handled the travel really well and handled the week of preparation really well,” he said. “It was nice that it paid off even after the rough start, going down 10-0. Our guys kept believing, they rallied together and had really good leadership on the sideline and it carried over into the game. I’m really pleased with the outcome.”
Sitake will be even more pleased if his team can get bowl eligible this weekend.
“We’re just focused on winning the next game. It is one of our team goals to be bowl-eligible and go to a bowl game and win that bowl game,” said senior defensive back Tanner Jacobson. “It’s going to start with our preparation to figure out what we can do against New Mexico State and go from there.”33 comments on this story
“We’ve positioned ourselves to be able to be bowl eligible,” Hadley said. “It’s always a goal. At the beginning of every season, every team has the goal of getting to a bowl game. Particularly if you’re independent, you don’t have a chance to play for a conference championship. It’s definitely nicer to get to a bowl game than it is to not (go).”
• • •
Cougars on the air
New Mexico State (3-7)
at BYU (5-5)
Saturday, 8:15 MST LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM