BYU football demonstrated sought-after resiliency in win at Arkansas
Ask any college football coach about the value of resiliency and you could get a lengthy response.
That’s because they all know that their team will face adversity, both in individual games and during a season.
Because of that certainty, they often preach to their players about how important it is to not get too high or too low, about moving on from mistakes and doing better the next time.
But — as with many things in life — it is easier to say it than actually do it.
BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake, however, got to see his Cougars clearly demonstrate their resiliency in Saturday’s nail-biting 38-31 win at Arkansas and he credited it to how they’ve come together as a team.
“I like the connection that the players have with each other,” Sitake said during Monday’s press teleconference. “It definitely showed last week. Kedon [Slovis] was one of those guys out there leading. The entire sideline was bought in.
“Some players who didn’t even get in the game were just so happy. These guys love each other, and that will go a long way to keep trusting in each other.”
It can be hard to stay positive when on the road against a good opponent and a team surrenders two quick TDs, but Sitake liked the attitude he saw.
“When we were down 14-0, there wasn’t a lot of panic on the sideline,” Sitake said. “We knew that this would be a long game. We were able to weather the storm a little bit and find ways to keep going. The excitement and energy was great.”
The BYU players also understand that not letting bad moments get them down might be the best lesson they will take away from rallying to beat the Razorbacks.
“Anytime you start off a little slow, it’s going to take a hit to your team’s morale,” Cougar senior linebacker Max Tooley said. “We just needed to keep our composure. A couple of bad plays can’t stop a whole team’s momentum. We tried to keep that positive mindset moving forward, knowing that it was going to be a dogfight.”
BYU senior wide receiver Darius Lassiter has seen a lot of football in his career and knows that the response in tough times is one way a team shows how good it is.
“We knew we couldn’t let ourselves get down,” Lassiter said. “There was a lot of football left to play since their points came in the first five minutes. We knew we would come out victorious if we played together and kept our heads up. We didn’t talk about the issues. We just focused on the solutions as a team.”
Of course, Sitake was also quick to point out there is a better way to do things, one he wants the Cougars to implement in upcoming games.
“If we can overcome adversity by not putting ourselves in that position to begin with, then that might be a lot easier,” Sitake said. “I’m happy that our coaches are on top of it.”
While Lassiter and the BYU offense made enough plays to put up 38 points on the board, it was the Cougar defense that led the charge by keeping Arkansas from pulling away.
The key statistic that showed that was the fact that BYU only allowed the Razorbacks to convert on 2-of-13 third down and 1-of-2 fourth down attempts.
That’s a vastly different ratio than Arkansas did in Provo in 2022 when they went 12-of-15 or even from what the Cougar defense did against Southern Utah, when the Thunderbirds converted 8-of-16 attempts.
Tooley felt like BYU picked up its game in those moments and it showed in the outcome.
“As a defense, three-and-outs and getting punts early in the drive are huge plays,” Tooley said. “Getting off the field, getting the rest and letting the offense take care of business is something that you are always striving for as a defense. Those third down stops, fourth down stops were clutch throughout the game.”
Even though the Cougars were able to consistently end Razorback drives, Sitake sees his defense of being capable of doing even more.
“In a lot of ways that (third down) is the only down that matters when it comes to defense and getting off the field,” Sitake said. “It’s also a down where you can wreak a lot of havoc. We want to create third-and-longs. I don’t think we had a ton of those, but looking at the film, we were able to have a bunch of meetings about it. We could’ve done so many more things defensively. But these are simple things that can be fixed.”