The Daily Herald’s BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson weigh in on five of the biggest questions facing the Cougars this week:
1. Do you believe it was the right decision for BYU to extend the contract of head football coach Kalani Sitake for four more years?
LLOYD: It’s easy to point at Sitake’s 26-23 record and some of the losses to mediocre teams as reasons to question whether deserves a contract extension. But although there are things the program certainly needs to improve on, I see the move as absolutely the right one for BYU. I think Cougar supporters have been so spoiled by having coaches who love the university and what it stands for that they often underestimate the value of continuity. It can be very challenging as a player to start over with a new coaching staff and new philosophies. You can see it in the BYU men’s basketball team right now as the athletes are working to develop under Mark Pope instead of Dave Rose. I think the next four years will be very telling for the Cougars on the gridiron as young players mature and hopefully raise their play to another level. If Sitake is hovering around .500 in four years, then it’s likely time to move on.
DICKSON: There are so many areas that Sitake checks the boxes as the right man for the job in Provo. He’s passionate about the program, his players love him, he graduates his players, he makes sure they live the honor code and is a consummate example, all of that. The one area he is lacking is winning more consistently. BYU is such a unique job and independence is such a huge challenge that I’m fine with Sitake getting an extension. But I will say the wins need to come more consistently. I think they will. The roster is going to be almost all his guys next year and there is so much young talent returning.
2. The Cougar football team is heavily favored at UMass this week. What do you think BYU fans should look for if they choose to pay to watch the game?
DICKSON: BYU is playing a team that has given up 555 yards and 52.4 points per game, the highest totals in the country. The Cougars should be able to match or exceed those numbers if they can clean up their act on the offensive side and limit penalties. BYU should make a goal to score on every possession and I would be disappointed if it doesn’t.
LLOYD: I agree with Darnell about the importance of offensive precision against a Minuteman defense that has plenty of question marks. I want to see BYU be disruptive and find similar effectiveness on the defensive side of the ball. I think this is a game where the Cougars should be able to create some confusion by bringing pressure while also forcing bad passes when they drop into coverage. I also want to see BYU get more young guys on the field as quickly as possible and continue to building the depth.
3. What do you feel you’ve learned about the Cougar men’s basketball team in the first five games?
LLOYD: I’ve learned that BYU is a hard-working, scrappy squad who will battle with anyone but could lose to anyone. The Cougars are still figuring out things at both ends of the floor and it shows at times. This isn’t a quick team or a great defensive squad, so they have to do things right and BYU isn’t to that point yet. When the Cougars get Yoeli Childs back that will change the dynamic as he will do more to help around the basket at both ends of the floor. We’ll see here in a couple of weeks how that impacts everything for BYU.
DICKSON: That they miss Yoeli Childs. That’s obvious, I know, but when I watch the offensive execution and how the opponents defense reacts, it’s pretty clear opponents don’t respect the Cougars inside. Childs will eventually return, but in the meantime BYU has to establish a better offensive identity. There’s too much standing around watching guys dribble on offense. Move the ball and attack the basket. The Cougars shot just seven free throws against Boise State, That’s unacceptable. This team needs to fill the air with 3-pointers. That’s their only real advantage until Childs gets back.
4. Which BYU basketball player has been the biggest surprise early in the season?
DICKSON: I would say sophomore big man Kolby Lee. He still has a long way to go to be an effective post player but BYU has had to throw him to the wolves, so to speak, with Childs out. He’s shown good hands and some offensive ability. He has a lot of growth to make on defense, where he should be able to affect the game more at his size. When Childs gets back, he’ll be a nice option off the bench to present a different look.
LLOYD: The Cougars have gotten some huge defensive minutes from Zac Seljaas against some good interior players and I’ve been impressed with how he has handled that challenge. If he hadn’t fouled against San Diego State, I think BYU wins that game. His offense hasn’t been great at this point but with the lack of size that the Cougars are dealing with, Seljaas has a been a player the Cougars have been relying on to play big minutes and get to the boards. I think BYU needs others to step up offensively and make more plays but I think the Cougars have been competitive because of the determination of guys like Seljaas.
5. How much difference do you think it will make for the No. 2-seed Cougar women’s soccer team to be able to face Louisville and — if they win — then NC State/No.3-seed Arkansas in the friendly confines of South Field in Provo?
LLOYD: There are few obvious things in favor of BYU, although I think altitude is often overrated. But the Cougars don’t have to travel unlike the other teams and that can be a bigger benefit than people realize. Soccer is a game that requires players to understand where they need to be and what they need to do — things that are easier when you are in familiar surroundings. Plus you know the Cougar fans are going to be out in force, providing the 12-man effect to urge their team on to victory.
DICKSON: When you talk to the players and coaches, it’s obvious they appreciate the kind of support they get in Provo. I actually feel sorry for some Olympic sports teams at other schools who will get a few hundred fans to a volleyball or soccer match. Cougar Nation loves this soccer team and there is such an energy when the place is full. The players tell me that support doesn’t go unnoticed and they feed off of it. In a game like soccer where little things mean a lot, that extra bit of juice can make the difference between a win and a loss.