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Inside Darnell’s Head: Cougars learn to forget in victory over Arkansas

By Staff | Sep 17, 2023
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BYU's Eddie Heckard, center, celebrates with his teammates in the locker room after a 38-31 victory at Arkansas on Saturday, September 16, 2023.
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BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and the Cougar players sing the fight song with the fans after the game against Arkansas at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2023.
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BYU players shake hands with the Cougar fans after the game against Arkansas at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2023.
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BYU fans cheer on their team during the game against Arkansas at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2023.

Here’s what’s going on Inside Darnell’s Head.

My daughter Shelby had to go to a BYU marching band social event (she plays saxophone) and missed the second half of the BYU-Arkansas football game. When she came home, she insisted I sit down with her and watch it together.

That’s a proud parent moment if there ever was one.

Forget it, buddy

“Be a goldfish.”

The lead character in the hit TV show “Ted Lasso” is a soccer coach, and he tells his players to “be a goldfish, because a goldfish has a 10-second memory.”

In other words, you need to forget about your mistake and move on to the next play. Of all the skills and attributes of an athlete, that might be the most overlooked and most valuable.

There are winners and losers on every play in a football game, and there were 131 plays in BYU’s stunning 38-31 victory at Arkansas on Saturday. How you react to what happens to you on a given play says a lot about what kind of player you are and what kind of team you play for, doesn’t it?

Saturday’s win was perhaps the ultimate example of that goldfish mentality, both collectively and individually, for Kalani Sitake and his crew. The Cougars gave up a 55-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the game and an 88-yard punt return for a score moments later to fall behind 14-0 just three and a half minutes into the game.

BYU looked overmatched in SEC Country.

There was a video that made the rounds on social media where Cougar players had trouble locating Arkansas on a map. BYU had plenty of trouble finding the Razorbacks on the football field early in the game as well.

Somehow, the Cougars, collectively, put those mistakes behind them to roar back into the game by scoring 21 straight points.

BYU’s defense lived the goldfish mentality, too. After that horrendous start, Jay Hill’s boys gave up just 17 more points the rest of the way.

Individually, there are dozens of similar story lines from the game, moments of failure followed by moments of triumph and redemption.

The stats put up by quarterback Kedon Slovis (13 of 25, 167 yards, 2 TD’s) wouldn’t jump out at you but his play on BYU’s go-ahead drive, including two huge third down conversions and an absolute dime to Keelan Marion for 37 yards, was amazing.

Wide receiver Chase Roberts caught just two passes for 12 yards on Saturday. His first catch resulted in a fumble late in the first half that led to a field goal for Arkansas. He was also the receiver that covered up Isaac Rex, resulting in a penalty that negated a huge gain in the second half.

But Roberts also redeemed himself with a SportsCenter Top Play highlight catch for the go-ahead score, a one-handed gem where the ball was overthrown but seemed to disappear and then re-materialize in his hand. It wasn’t until the slow-motion replay that I could even tell Roberts caught the ball.

Think about how easily BYU fans get discouraged after adversity hits. Social media is littered with the wailing and gnashing of teeth. It’s human nature to become self-loathing and hate yourself because of your shortcomings.

Multiply that by a thousand and you might get a taste of what the Cougar players were feeling after that awful start on Saturday.

After the game, junior defensive end Tyler Batty said, “We never count ourselves out.”

That’s a goldfish for you.

Perfectly Rational Overreactions

Each week I give calm and measured reactions for BYU football.

My first PRO: Jay Hill is the greatest defensive coordinator in BYU history.

What would your list look like? Bronco Mendenhall and Ken Schmidt come to mind, but the Cougars have always been an offense-first school. Hill’s defense made the difference on Saturday in so many ways.

In last year’s 52-35 Razorbacks victory in Provo, the BYU defense allowed 12 of 15 third down conversions and Arkansas scored on eight straight possessions.

Every time I say that second part out loud, I shake my head. How is that even possible?

This year in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks were just 2 of 13 on third downs. Arkansas scored on its first possession of the third quarter and BYU held the home team scoreless the rest of the way.

That’s the final six possessions, folks. Six straight goose eggs.

How relentless was the Cougar D? On the final drive, Arkansas committed four penalties, two of them for holding. There was no sitting back in a zone for BYU. They came after KJ Jefferson and ultimately that won the game.

Did you happen to catch the end of regulation between Colorado and Colorado State? The Rams at back in a two-deep zone and allowed the Buffs to drive 98 yards for the tying score.

Jay Hill for president.

PRO No. 2: Eddie Heckard is the greatest cornerback to ever don a Cougar uniform.

Jernaro Gilford and Omar Morgan, consider yourselves on notice.

Heckard had a couple of difficult moments early in the game but came back with a textbook tackle in space to prevent an Arkansas third down conversion in the second half and his sack of Jefferson forced a fumble that helped the Cougars keep the lead in the fourth quarter.

Heckard almost went pro after last season at Weber State and fans are so glad they get to see him play in 2023.

PRO No. 3: After beating Arkansas on the road, the Cougars proved they are worthy of the Power Five label.

We didn’t know much about BYU after the first two games, did we? And after the first few minutes on Saturday, it looked like the Cougars were on their way to a sound defeat. I mean, BYU won the game by scoring 38 points with only 281 yards offense.

They had to overcome so much adversity to just get back into a game that was filled with huge momentum swings all night. Going on the road and winning against an SEC team is a landmark moment for the program in every way.

And PRO No. 4: The Cougars are 3-0, which virtually assures they will be going bowling in 2023.

Not many fans or media members believed BYU could go 3-0 to start the season. Getting to six wins puts the Cougars in the post-season and now they just have to go 3-6 the rest of the way to get there.

Are there three winnable games on the remaining schedule? Sure there are.

The Big 12 didn’t exactly cover itself in glory on Saturday. No. 4 Texas struggled to get past Wyoming, No. 15 Kansas State lost to Missouri on a 61-yard field goal as time expired. Iowa State lost to Ohio, Cincinnati lost to Miami (Ohio) in overtime and Oklahoma State got worked by South Alabama 33-7.

BYU’s next opponent, Kansas, beat winless Nevada 31-24. Getting to six wins (or beyond) is a real possibility.

Who Carried the Boats and the Logs? (BYU edition)

So many players would be worthy of this accolade by virtue of their performance against Arkansas, but I wanted to single out redshirt freshman Parker Kingston, who covered himself in glory on Saturday and definitely carried the boats and the logs.

He threw a touchdown pass to Deion Smith for the Cougars’ first score, then caught a 20-yard scoring pass to tie the game at 31-all in the third quarter. He also converted a huge third down play late in the game where he evaded a Razorbacks defender after catching a pass short of the line to gain.

We’ve been hearing about Kingston’s speed and ability ever since he joined the program and he put that on display in SEC Country. His play was especially impactful because BYU’s starting wide receivers were shut down for most of the game.

My eyes, my eyes!

I’m not going to make many friends in the soccer community, but I have this to say: Your game sucks.

Soccer is often referred to as “the beautiful game,” and most of the time that’s true. Some goals are so breathtakingly awesome they bring tears to your eyes. But …

There’s a reason soccer has never risen to the level of popularity in the United States fans of that sport so desperately want.

Playing for a tie is the stupidest thing in sports.

TCU opted to do that against No. 1 BYU on Wednesday at a sold out South Field, playing the “gamesmanship” card with players falling to the ground, getting medical attention from trainers and trotting off the field moments later just fine. It was essentially a stalling tactic to take the huge Cougar crowd out of the game and gave the Horned Frogs what amounted to unlimited time outs (there are no time outs in soccer). Once the game was tied at 3 with under 15 minutes to play, TCU went into full delay mode.

Horned Frog players and coaching staff celebrated the tie as if they’d won the game. Since the Big 12 plays a post-season tournament, BYU and TCU each earned one point for the tie (a winning team gets three points, losing team zero). That one point could be a huge difference in seeding for the tournament.

You see this type of thing at all levels of soccer, even the World Cup. I understand the stalling tactics when you are protecting a lead. That happens in just about every sport. But to do so to preserve a tie?


Friday night lights

American Fork cheerleader Mallory Walbruch was in the middle of singing the national anthem before the start of Friday’s football game with Lehi when her microphone cut out.

Don’t worry, Mal, the student section has your back and sang the rest of the anthem.

Thanks, by the way, to American Heritage schools for the fireworks show at the start of the second half. American Heritage is just across the street from the Mount Timpanogos Temple, which you can see from American Fork’s football field. The light show was quite enjoyable.

Finally, the underrecruited Utah Valley high school football player of the week is American Fork’s Dax Watts.

OK, technically he’s highly recruited because he’s committed to play baseball for the University of Utah next season. But the 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back/linebacker is pretty good on the gridiron, too.

He scored a rushing touchdown and had a pick-six (this is his first year playing defense on varsity) in a 62-28 victory against Lehi on Friday. AF baseball coach Jarod Ingersoll, who helps run the chains at football games, told me Watts is an extremely hard worker and a great kid, too.

I think Watts would be a terrific college football player, if he chose to play both. Maybe he should give Kyle Whittingham a call.

That’s it for now. Enjoy these beautiful fall days, be kind to each other and have a terrific week.


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