For those of you who are first-time readers, welcome! Here is a link explaining my process of how I recap BYU games while paying respect to the rich historical tradition of the BYU Cougars I love.
-Luke Staley-Tyler Allgeier Rusher of the Game: Chris Brooks.
Brooks had a solid game for BYU. He had 14 carries for 86 yards, including a 28-yard run (the Harvey Unga-Jamaal Williams Run of the Game) in the fourth quarter to cut the Notre Dame lead to 25-20. Sadly that was all she wrote for BYU, but it was Brooks’ hard-nosed, downhill running that helped make it a game at all.
-Austin Collie Receiver of the Game: Kody Epps.
No Cougar did more for this team in this game than Kody Epps. Epps had four catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt freshman was once again the Zach Wilson Freshman of the Game. Epps has become the clear-cut best for the Cougars in a very talented receivers’ room. For the season, Epps has 25 catches for 298 yards and five touchdowns.
While most thought it would be Romney and Nacua as the top targets for Jaren Hall and the passing game this season, it is Epps and Keanu Hill (who has 17 catches for 334 yards and four touchdowns) who are Hall’s top targets. They will need to show up big next week in BYU’s last big-name match of the year against Arkansas.
-LaVell Edwards Calls of the Game: A mixed bag.
Say what you will about Kalani Sitake; the man coaches with guts. His fourth and goal call in the first quarter to get BYU its only lead of the game was brilliant. The Cougars had tried to punch it in with the power run three times. And on the fourth time, they faked it, and Kody Epps was lost by the Irish defense, and Jaren Hall found him for a perfect touchdown.
The flip side of this is Sitake calling a timeout (wasting the three-timeout advantage) with under four minutes to play, all to call the fourth straight-ahead run in a row on fourth down. While Coach Sitake can have a brilliant, innovative, and aggressive call like the one for the first touchdown, in the same game, he can have a conservative, one-dimensional, predictable call like this one to decide the game.
Most coaches are this way. They’re committed to their way of doing things. In Coach Sitake’s case, that is a bend but don’t break defense and an offense determined to execute the power run, and the passing game is secondary to this. At a program like BYU, where you won’t get five-star recruits by the dozen a year, you have to have the flexibility and be able to change very quickly in reaction to in-game struggles. The best and championship-winning coaches can do this, and while it wasn’t prevalent against Notre Dame, I believe Coach Sitake, like anyone in life, is still growing and can become that kind of dynamic coach.
-The BYU Offensive Line and another slow start.
Everything started slow for the Cougars. The defense couldn’t stop Mayer, and the offense stalled. However, the defense finally rewarded the offense with a fourth down stop, and the offense thanked them by giving up two points and punting the ball back to Notre Dame.
The Cougars still struggle in the same facets of their game as they did at the beginning of the year when at least a little improvement shouldn’t be too much to ask. The worst struggles are in the trenches. With players who have shown their ability to be great in the not-too-distant past, the fault would seem to lie with the coaches at those positions.
Sadly BYU is not Alabama or Ohio State and can’t just throw money at coordinators and coaching staff members until they find some elite ones. As much as players may struggle and need to improve, grow, and get healthy, coaches must do the same. The Cougars needed this yesterday, or maybe Coach Sitake needs to reevaluate how the staff has been doing.
-Dennis Pitta Tight End of the Game: Michael Mayer.
I will rarely highlight a player on the opposing team. This is one of those rare exceptions. Mayer had 11 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns. I have to give a hat tip to Mayer because he is a great player. An all-American caliber tight end. But BYU made him look like an all-Pro. More on that in a minute.
-Fred Warner Defensive Player of the Game: Max Tooley.
It’s hard to find fault with Max Tooley in this loss, as he played a big game once again. Tooley recorded his third interception of the season and registered a team-high 13 tackles. That interception helped BYU’s efforts to come back, making it the Kai Nacua Pick of the Game. He’s having a stellar season, though, with 42 tackles, two tackles for a loss, a sack, a pass breakup, a quarterback hurry, and three interceptions, two returned for touchdowns.
Max Tooley is clearly BYU’s best defensive player, but even he couldn’t be everywhere in Las Vegas, despite his best efforts. He also got a bum wrap on the call that let the clock run out. He stuffed the ball carrier short, and the refs gave it to him without measure.
-Shay Muirbrook Pass Rusher of the Game: None
There is some jest to this award being mentioned because the BYU pass rush was non-existent. The Cougars only have nine sacks on the year, and they are tied for 102nd nationally. To make matters worse, they only have 27 tackles for a loss on the year, which ranks 112th nationally. The defense needs to find a way to make stops behind the line of scrimmage to have a chance to meet any of the goals the team has left.
BYU’s goal of double-digit wins and a bowl game are still alive. However, that bowl game being a New Year’s Six game is on life support. Still, if this team can get out of its own way, particularly by avoiding the slow starts and calling games too conservatively, they are more than good enough to get to 11-2 after all is said and done.
-Adjustments: They were lacking.
The biggest failure to adjust for BYU was not finding a way to cover Michael Mayer. As I said, Mayer is an all-American, but BYU made him look like Travis Kelce. At some point, you go to one of your best cover players and tell them they’re going to get to know Mr. Mayer really well for the rest of the day and, no matter what, to follow him around. You have to have some self-respect and determination enough to decide that maybe someone else might beat you because you had to have extra help to defend Mayer, but by Brigham, you’re not going to let Mayer keep doing it!
-Rise and Shout Again: Up next, Arkansas.
The Razorbacks are a much better team than their 3-3 record would indicate. They’re on a three-game losing streak, but that makes them even more dangerous as they are desperate to get back to winning and will play with a sense of urgency that BYU themselves haven’t been able to find yet this season. K.J. Jefferson is the best quarterback the Cougars will face this year. He is a dual threat, hard to take down on the run, and even more dangerous in the passing game.
The Razorbacks are a team that prides itself on playing well in the trenches. Coach Sam Pittman is a former offensive line coach, and the Razorbacks are happy to run the ball right at you and play smash-mouth football. Max Tooley and Ben Bywater will have plenty of opportunities to make big plays, but the Cougar defensive and offensive lines, who have struggled this year, will need to reverse those fortunes for BYU to have a chance at beating an SEC team.
Heart of a Lion: The forecast for BYU is uncertain.
I see BYU finishing the season at 9-3. Losing to Arkansas and then winning the final five games of the regular season. That would put them in a game like the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas, against a future conference opponent Houston or maybe Texas Tech. If BYU could win a bowl game and get to 10 wins on the season, I’d call it a successful season. The culture this program has built over the past three years is one that expects them to win at least 10 games and win their bowl game. Their strengths are more than enough to overcome their weaknesses and reach the standard that they have set in the culture they have built. BYU will be back, as they are always loyal, strong, and true!
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Read about all the BYU games so far this season!
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