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BYU football attempting to reverse trend of mistake-filled performances

By Jared Lloyd - | Nov 13, 2023

Marcia Harris, Special to the Herald

BYU sophomore safety Ethan Slade tries to make a tackle during the Big 12 game against Iowa State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

BYU athletics has some disadvantages in being a private, religious-owned school located in Provo, Utah. There is a wide subsection of athletes who will never consider joining the Cougars because of who BYU is.

That means for BYU to beat top opponents without those limitations, the Cougars have to overcome their deficiencies by executing at a higher level.

In four of the last five games, the Cougar football team hasn’t come anywhere close to accomplishing that.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake reiterated during Monday’s press teleconference that the four teams who routed the Cougars in recent weeks are good teams who deserved the wins.

“You have to see that we are going against difficult opponents,” Sitake said. “They have really good players. They don’t make it easy on you. If you make mistakes, you can’t expect to come back and win. You get blown out by good, physical teams that are at the Power Five level. That’s what happens.”

Marcia Harris, Special to the Herald

BYU defenders make a tackle during the Big 12 game against Iowa State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

He clarified what he said after Saturday’s loss to Iowa State about the offensive and defensive lines not being physical enough against the Cyclones in the trenches.

“Our guys weren’t turning down contact or shying away from it, but we need to be more stout at the line of scrimmage,” Sitake said. “Our team is a physical team, as you will hear if you talk to anyone who coaches against us. But what makes us not look [physical is when we miss blocks and miss tackles.”

What is controllable for BYU is how they handle their own side of things and that starts with cutting back on the self-inflicted wounds.

Sitake said that it would be different if the Cougars kept making the same mistakes that cost them games, but he’s seen a variety of issues and specified some of them from the last three blowout losses.

“The guys fought hard at Texas defensively,” Sitake said. “One phase was working for us. It’s not that we didn’t make mistakes against Texas but one phase was working really, really well. The other two phases didn’t do their part. We gave up a punt return for a touchdown and settled for field goals instead of getting touchdowns.

West Virginia's Traylon Ray, top, jumps over players during the first half of an NCAA college football game against BYU on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Chris Jackson)

“We went to West Virginia and none of the phases were working. We had pass interference penalties on their first drive allowed them to march down the field, then we didn’t respond when we had the ball. We had a kickoff return for a touchdown called back because of a holding penalty. It’s hard to create momentum when you keep making mistakes.

“You look at the Iowa State game and you look at the turnovers. We can’t do that. Taking care of the football is a program thing. The fact that we didn’t do that is embarrassing.”

Sitake said that if the ball security issue shows up again, then he’ll be “really upset.”

“The mistakes are different — but they are mistakes all the same,” Sitake said. “We’ve got to find a way not to do that.”

He emphatically stated that he would be really worried if he had players quitting, but he doesn’t see that. He just wants to see the Cougars channel their fight into playing at a high level.

Courtesy BYU Photo

BYU's Keelan Marion is tackled by a pair of Texas players during a Big 12 college football game in Austin on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.

“I love the fight of our players, and the culture is still thriving,” Sitake said. “I believe the culture is still thriving because guys aren’t pointing fingers at each other, they are still unified. Even with all the outside noise, our guys are still connected and love their roles on the team. The guys are not quitting, and I love seeing the energy they have when I watch the film.”

He sees moments where BYU is doing well on offense or defense or special teams. He wants to see that combined into all of them succeeding at the same time.

“One phase gave us a chance,” Sitake said. “Imagine if two or three phases are functioning that way. When all three phases aren’t working and there are mistakes, it’s really hard to come back.”

All of the bad play is in the past and so all the Cougars can do now is decide what they can take from it.

“That experience will benefit us if we learn from it and execute at a higher level,” Sitake said. “Hopefully we can get that done this weekend against Oklahoma.”

BYU will be playing with one fewer day of practice, however, since the team selected Monday to be its “civic engagement day.”

“Going in we knew we had to mark a day for civic engagement and this is the day we marked,” Sitake said. “You can’t use a day you don’t normally use for operations. Everyone has to do it. Basically the players are on their own to take care of what they need to get done today.”


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