BYU football: Cougars don’t play to potential, says Kalani Sitake

BYU’s soccer team takes part in the Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel game against struggling Utah State at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Thursday night with a 19th national ranking and an acceptable 3-1 record despite some injuries early in the season .

In short, the Big-12-bound Cougars are in a much better position than the disappointing Aggies (1-3) with two-thirds of the season still ahead of both teams.

But BYU coach Kalani Sitake isn’t a happy camper these days. In fact, he is frustrated that his team is not living up to its potential. Only quarterback Jaren Hall, who completed 72% of his passes for 1,164 yards and nine touchdowns with just one interception, has met or exceeded expectations.

“I would have to say that the surprise for me is that we don’t play football consistently. I talk (a lot) about playing our best. I expected that we would be much further, with the number of veterans we have on this team .” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake

“I should say that the surprise for me is that we don’t play consistent football,” Sitake said on Monday. “I talk (a lot) about playing our best. I expected that we would be much further ahead with the number of veterans we have on this team. ”

Sitake named the Cougars’ first four opponents — South Florida, Baylor, Oregon and Wyoming — as he always does, but alluded to his team’s lackluster start and his own shortcomings early and often in a candid and thoughtful conversation with reporters. Monday.

“We can still be a lot better as a team, and that’s my job,” he said. “I don’t criticize anyone else but myself. There is a huge emphasis on myself (to make the Cougars play better).”

Obviously, the Cougars haven’t hit their stride yet in any of the game’s three phases: offense, defense, and special teams. Which brings us to the 91st meeting, and perhaps for quite some time the final, with the state of Utah, which clearly has its own shortcomings to worry about.

“I just want our team to play better, play a good football game and maybe play our best,” said Sitake. “I don’t think we’ve seen it yet, and I don’t think all 60 minutes has been clean enough. So looking forward to getting that done on Thursday. That will be a big focus for us.”

Fresh in Sitake’s mind were the 11 penalties his team scored in the 38-24 win over Wyoming; he was also unhappy with the slow start that allowed Wyoming to jump to a 3-0 and 10-7 lead.

“We have to get into a rhythm,” he said. “There were times when we were in a great rhythm and there were times when we weren’t. I would just like to be in a great rhythm for the whole game.”

The Aggies will not be a willing participant in that regard, even if they suffer consecutive losses to Weber State and UNLV. Utah State always, always, always gets up to play the Cougars and won the last rivalry game played in Provo, 45-20 in 2018.

“Yeah, everyone is dangerous when they’re in this position, right?” said Sitake. “They are the same team (which won the Mountain West title in 2021) and coached by the same guys. They make a lot of effort. … But I’m not really interested in what the state of Utah is doing. I’m more concerned about what we’re doing because I see some things that we can definitely improve on. I’m frustrated.”

Coincidentally, that embarrassing loss for the Aggies at LES turned out to be something of a turning point for Sitake’s program. Zach Wilson replaced Tanner Mangum as quarterback the following weekend against Hawaii, took a 49-23 win and the rest is history.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake watches the end of the game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene on Saturday, September 17, 2022.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake watches the end of the game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon, on Saturday, September 17, 2022, as his Cougars fall for the Ducks.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

While Wilson cared for a broken hand, Hall and Baylor Romney backed the Cougars to a 42-14 win over USU at Maverik Stadium in 2019, and the teams did not meet in 2020 due to the pandemic. BYU won 34-20 in Logan last year behind Tyler Allgeier’s 218 rushing yards.

But Allgeier is now in the NFL, and BYU’s running game hasn’t come close to where it left off in 2021.

“I’m frustrated that we haven’t played our best game yet and we haven’t seen it constantly,” said Sitake. “There is no excuse for it. … We don’t have much time to figure it out. We need to get this thing up and running now.”

Are the Cougars Exaggerating the Threat posed by the USU in 2022? Not if you ask defensive coordinator Ilasia Tuiaki, who was USU’s running backs and special teams in 2009-10 and the tight ends/fullback coach in 2011 before moving to Utah.

“I coached at Utah State for three years. I know what this game means for those players and those coaches and that community,” Tuiaki said. “We’re going to have their best chance and we have to make sure we play at a very high level against an attack that has been really dangerous.”

The BYU defense has forced just two turnovers in four games, a stat that Sitake and Tuiaki find unacceptable. Max Tooley had a pick-six against USF and Ben Bywater picked up a deflected pass against Oregon.

Meanwhile, USU starting QB Logan Bonner has thrown eight interceptions, the most in the country. Utah State has coughed up the ball 12 times and is ranked 129th out of 131 FBS teams in that disgraceful category.

Despite all that, Sitake says his team hasn’t played well enough for anyone to overlook, even if that showdown at Notre Dame in Las Vegas looms next week.

“We know from the inside what we have to solve as a team, things we have to do so that we can play at our best,” he said. “The game of football requires you to respect what’s in front of you and approach it the right way. So that won’t happen with us. There’s nothing to miss. You see it all the time in college football, all those crazy, wild games and things that happen.”

Offensively, the Cougars should be closer to full strength as senior receiver Gunner Romney is expected to make his debut in 2022 after suffering a ruptured kidney in the first week of fall camp. During his coaches’ show on Tuesday night, Sitake said that receiver Puka Nacua (lower leg injury) might have finished if the game was Saturday, but probably won’t be Thursday.

BYU Offensive Coordinator Aaron Roderick said the USU defense has some excellent playmakers.

“They play really hard. They create a lot of chaos. It’s a team that really goes after it,” said Roderick. “They gave us a great game last year and I expect them to give their very best. I know what they are capable of. They probably haven’t had the season they wanted so far. But I think they are a lot better than their record shows.”


Cougars, Aggies on the air

Utah State (1-3) at No. 19 BYU (3-1)

Thursday, 6pm MDT

LaVell Edwards Stadium

Provo, Utah

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL News Radio 102.7 FM/1160 AM

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