BYU 1-on-1: Analyzing the Oregon defeat and offensive student chants
BYU sports experts Darnell Dickson and Jared Lloyd address five of the big questions facing Cougar athletics this week:
1. What is the most disappointing factor in the BYU football loss at Oregon?
DICKSON: Based on comments from the coaches, the team lost focus in the raucous Autzen Stadium environment, panicked when it fell behind and tried to make superhero plays instead of doing its 1/11th. That surprises me because this might be the most experienced team BYU has ever put on the field. When you think about the usual amount of mature returned missionaries combined with those taking advantage of a COVID year and dozens of players who have played multiple years and had multiple starts, it’s kind of shocking. The Ducks have been really good at home, there is no doubt. But if there was a Cougar team that could handle the rigors of a difficult road game, you would think it would be this one.
LLOYD: I know a lot of emphasis has been put on the defensive deficiencies and there is certainly plenty to look at there, but frankly I was more disappointed with how the BYU offense and special teams didn’t do their part to have the backs of the Cougar defenders. Remember that the BYU defense was the main reason the Cougars beat Baylor, overcoming the offensive and special teams deficiencies in that game. When the defense struggled at Oregon, the offense went 0-for-4 on fourth down, while the special teams units had another missed field goal and short punts. This team has always prided itself on having everyone else step up to cover when another group is down but last Saturday that simply didn’t happen. I think all of the BYU players were disappointed in that.
2. Tight end Dallin Holker has decided to leave the BYU football program and enter the transfer portal after just three games. Thoughts?
LLOYD: While Holker’s decision is somewhat disappointing, I can’t say it’s really surprising. I’ve enjoyed covering Holker since his days as a Pioneer at Lehi High but I have seen some signs of stagnation during his time in Provo. He came in with big expectations and showed flashes of being a dynamic player. It’s not that he’s been ignored this season, having made nine receptions (tied for third-most on the team) for 86 yards and a TD. But he and the other tight ends don’t seem to be a focal point of the offense, which has been more directed at the wide receivers. I’m not sure if this is a good move for him, however, since it means he’ll likely be starting over in a new system and have to find a new niche. While that’s a steep price to pay, maybe it will be worth it in the end. If he does move on, I hope he finds success wherever he goes.
DICKSON: Many BYU fans feel that Holker is selfish for leaving based on wanting more touches to feature his skills, and they are not wrong. However, this is just another result of the college game becoming more and more like professional football. Despite the constant comments from players and coaches about how close the team is and how they all want the same thing, college football is becoming more and more “every man for himself.” There’s a lot at stake with NIL money and the possibility of playing for even more cash in the NFL. Players can pretty much transfer without penalty so what’s to keep them in a situation where they don’t feel they are being utilized properly? The concept of “sacrificing for the team” is now quaint and archaic. It’s what coaches and players tell the media but it’s really only a small portion of the truth. BYU will utilize the “next man up” mentality and move on, but it has to hurt Holker’s teammates and coaches that he chose to leave just three games into the season.
3. Where does BYU need to show the most improvement on Saturday against Wyoming?
DICKSON: So far this season I’ve been shocked at BYU’s ineffective running game. Sure, the Cougars ran for more than 300 yards against South Florida but most of that yardage came on just three plays, runs of 75 yards by Puka Nacua, 52 yards by Chris Brooks and 28 yards by Jackson McChesney late in the game. The rest of the run game was inconsistent. Against Baylor and Oregon, the much-hyped BYU offensive line struggled. One stat that stands out is 0.8, which is the number of yards Cougar backs gained against the Ducks before they were hit by a defender. Brooks has taken some criticism from BYU fans in the run game, but he and Lopini Katoa are seeing very little running room. Against Wyoming, I think BYU has to show it can dominate at the point of attack.
LLOYD: I want to see clear improvement in three places: Special teams, special teams and special teams. Specifically, I want to see Jake Oldroyd be the Jake Oldroyd I know he is capable of being, a kicker who comes in confident no matter the situation and makes the right kicks. I want to see Ryan Rehkow punt the ball like Ryan Rehkow is capable of punting it. He has eight punts for a 39.9 yard average with just two inside the 20-yard line, which is far below the standard he has set for himself. And then I want to see the kickoff and punt coverage teams be smart and aggressive, limiting field position and not having stupid penalties. While these things might get overlooked because of issues in other aspects of the game, I believe cleaning them up will give the Cougars a big lift moving forward.
4. The University of Oregon has apologized for the vulgar chant repeated by its student section during the football game at Autzen Stadium on Saturday. What can we learn from this situation?
LLOYD: I see the lesson as being that if we truly want to teach that bigotry is wrong, we have to apply the condemnation of it universally. No one can pick and choose who it is OK to be bigoted against and who it isn’t. I applaud the efforts of the University of Oregon, of Oregon governor Kate Brown, of The Pit Crew (Oregon’s student section) and others who have condemned such behavior, even though they may not agree with the religious views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns BYU. A country which affirms the right to religious freedom should look at chants that show religious bigotry as just as shameful as those that demean any other culture or race. We will all be better when we send the message that such actions are never appropriate.
DICKSON: On one hand, many BYU fans are shrugging off the chant as a “kids will be kids thing.” Then there are those who realize the incredibly unfair double standard that exists when it comes to religious bigotry and the LDS church. I think about the Gonzaga student section, which used to dress up as missionaries when BYU came to town until its administration asked them to, out of respect, stop. They did. It doesn’t cost you a single thing to be respectful of other people’s beliefs and treat them with dignity.
5. The BYU women’s volleyball team had a great week with wins at Utah and at home against Utah Valley. As WCC play begins, how good do you think this Cougar team can be?
DICKSON: The No. 16 Cougars, who were picked to win the WCC title, are looking up at No. 4 San Diego and maybe No. 17 Pepperdine as league play starts. BYU has been spectacular in WCC play and is 33-1 over the past two seasons. While the Cougars are improving, they are still young and will likely lose two or three matches in league play. That’s still really good but not as dominant as they have been. Potentially, the team is probably a few years away from making another run at the Final Four. Still, Heather Olmstead runs an awesome program and the Cougars are always really fun to watch. Volleyball is such an athletic acrobatic sport and ultimately the Smith Fieldhouse is a great place to watch.
LLOYD: I’m excited about the possibilities for this team but a lot of it depends on what the Cougars learned from the preseason. Look, I don’t think there is any shame in losing to three Top 10-caliber teams in Pitt, Georgia Tech and Ohio State. As Darnell pointed out, I think Pepperdine and definitely San Diego are good enough to push BYU hard in conference play. But part of the beauty of having a young team is seeing how it evolves during the year. The fact is that although the Cougars face a tough test against the Waves on Saturday, it will be at home. Other than that, there are some good matches but a number of winnable contests until the first showdown with the Toreros in San Diego on Oct. 21. I’m confident in Heather Olmstead’s ability to bring her team along to the point that it will be competitive in every single match and get some big wins.