One of the great benefits of using a computer when writing is the fact that you have an “undo” command that can help you avoid mistakes.
Unfortunately for the BYU football team, there is no such button when on the gridiron.
The sting of the 38-34 loss to Hawaii in Tuesday’s SoFi Hawaii Bowl would much more likely have been the elation of victory if the Cougars had been able to take advantage of just a few of the many missed opportunities.
Crushing offensive turnovers, demoralizing failures to get defensive turnovers, red zone woes, a missed field goal, defensive lapses ... there were just too many issues for BYU to overcome.
“I liked the way our offense played and fought back,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said in the post-game press conference. “We were able to make some plays but we turned the ball over. That usually doesn’t work out well for us when we’ve turned the ball over that many times, particularly in situations where we can get points. That was the thing that cost us the game.”
It’s hard to argue that the turnovers weren’t the critical element in the Rainbow Warrior victory.
The interception thrown by sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson (through the hands of senior wide receiver Aleva Hifo) set Hawaii up to take a big first-half lead and seize the momentum.
Wilson’s leap for the end zone that was called a fumble in the third quarter would’ve given BYU a 7-point lead if it had been ruled a touchdown (video replay was inconclusive, so the call on the field was all that mattered).
“I guess they didn’t have enough evidence to see that it was a touchdown,” Sitake said. “I can’t say that I could see it from where I stood. I just assumed they had the right angles. I think the best thing is to always have a camera at the goal line so you can see if it crosses the line.”
The last interception on the last drive of the game ended all Cougar hopes for a dramatic comeback.
“From what I saw the defender made a great play to undercut the route,” Sitake said. “I think we had some other routes that were available too but that was the one Zach (Wilson) felt comfortable with. I thought we were in really good position. We were marching and had two timeouts still. The turnover came at a really bad time for us. Really all of the turnovers came at really bad times for us. We weren’t able to really recover.”
On the other side, Cougar defenders had at least two interceptions fall through their hands, while defensive lineman Zac Dawe had what was initially ruled a strip-sack fumble recovery overturned on replay.
Success on those plays would’ve at the very least prevented Hawaii from scoring 10 points, which would have changed the outcome in a 4-point game.
Then there was the disastrous third-and-2 play in the fourth quarter that will probably have BYU fans shaking their heads for at least the next eight months.
“I would’ve liked it to be a first down,” Sitake said when asked about the play call. “That’s pretty much the game if we get a first down right there but obviously it didn’t go our way. We weren’t able to execute. We’ve got to keep working, although unfortunately we won’t have Micah (Simon) and Aleva (Hifo) and the other seniors on the team. We have to learn from this and get better — and that’s for coaches and players.”
BYU’s defense certainly struggled in the first half, forcing the Cougars to play from behind.
“I felt like the big plays were the issue,” Sitake said. “We gave up a lot of big plays. Credit to Hawaii. They were making the big plays and we weren’t stopping them. At some points we have to have our defensive backs challenge them and find ways to get out of the play. Hawaii likes to run the ball and we made them one-dimensional. A team that runs the ball 140 yards per game, we were able to minimize that and make them a one-dimensional team. Obviously we didn’t make enough plays to win the game.”
But BYU was able to turn things around and get things going the right direction after the break.
“I think we just went back to what we were supposed to do in the first half,” Pili said. “We had a good game plan. In the first half we didn’t make the plays we were supposed to. They made more plays than we did. Going into the second half we wanted to outplay them.”
The Cougars also got three excellent punt returns by Hifo.
“Special teams had a lot of great punt returns by Aleva,” Sitake said. “That put us in some really good positions. We dug ourselves a hole in the first half, then got out but weren’t able to finish it.”
He was quick to point out that it was a team effort.
“That’s all the 10 guys in front of me,” Hifo said. “With the scheme we had going into this game, all I had to do was run around a couple of guys. The other guys were working their butts off to sustain their blocks. It’s not easy when their backs are turned and they are running with guys down the field full speed. It’s all credit to them.”
Those momentum plays helped BYU rally but Hifo was clear that it’s the results that matter.
“It was important for us,” Hifo said. “We got the ball back, forcing those three-and-outs. To have field position like that, it’s always good to start. At the end of the day, we’ve got to finish those drives. If we don’t come out with points, it doesn’t really matter.”