If you're a smart human being, you're not reading this until Friday morning because you are in bed and allowing your body to rest up for the work day tomorrow. If you're a BYU fan, you're probably reading this on Thursday night as you lament a win over Utah State. (Yes, I said lament. Yes, I know what lament means. Yes, I'm aware that lamenting a positive outcome doesn't make sense. But chill out and roll with me on this one for a little while.)
Much like last week against Wyoming, BYU's win over Utah State felt less-than-inspiring. The first half was downright ugly and the overall tone of the game felt sloppy. BYU won the game because they were clearly the better team, but being better than the 2022 Utah State Aggies is a lot like Ruth's Chris being better than Applebee's. It just isn't that impressive.
So, what the hell do we take away from this game? And who the hell is this BYU team? That's what I'm up past my bedtime thinking about, and that's what I'm hoping to talk through with all of you here. Let's see how this goes....
The Baylor Game Did Happen
First and foremost, if you're thinking of tweeting something like, "How did this team beat Baylor?" then you need to know that you're not very creative. That tweet has been tweeted about 5000 times. It's not an original thought at this point, sorry about it.
But original or not, it is a valid question. How did BYU beat Baylor?
If we're being honest with ourselves, the Cougars beat Baylor by playing the same way they played in the second half against Wyoming and the second half against Utah State, but they did it for a full 60 minutes against Baylor.
Folks, that Baylor game did happen and BYU does deserve some credit. Is it possible that BYU played above and beyond their standard capabilities? Sure, of course that's possible. But if you go back and watch that game, it isn't like BYU played particularly well. There were points left on the board and plenty of missed tackles and other issues in that game too. The biggest difference between that game and the last two weeks of football seems to be in the effort with which BYU played.
When games against Wyoming and Utah State got ugly, the team started playing harder - the increased effort was tangible. When BYU played harder, they kinda dominated. That kind of effort is how they beat Baylor.
The Baylor game happened. That is what this team can do.
The Oregon Game Also Happened And We Haven't Really Talked About The Fallout Much...
The week after Baylor, BYU was pummeled by Oregon. The Ducks were bigger, faster and stronger at every position. Bo Nix looked like Marcus Mariota (when he was at Oregon, not current Mariota). BYU looked terrible. They couldn't stop the run. They couldn't move the ball. It was ugly.
That game by itself isn't a big deal, though. Losing at Oregon shouldn't be overly concerning to anyone. Does it suck? Of course it sucks. But does it mean your team is terrible and beyond repair? Absolutely not.
Most teams lose in Oregon.
But there is a consequence of that Oregon game that we haven't talked about, and it's something that we need to discuss. At the risk of making a fan out of Jason Buck, independence might have something to do with what's going on here. Hear me out:
If you were to casually ask a random BYU fan what they are most excited about in the future of BYU athletics, I can promise you that they won't say 'the next game on the schedule.' BYU fans everywhere are excited for the Big 12. The Athletic Department is excited for the Big 12. The coaching staff is excited for the Big 12. All offseason long, BYU was asked about the Big 12 and how they're getting their program ready. The Big 12 logo is plastered throughout the locker room and all over BYU's gear and swag that the players get. BYU football is a Big 12 program and they are proud of it.
Except that they're not. BYU is independent this year, but damn, you wouldn't know it.
One of the biggest challenges Kalani Sitake was going to have this year was keeping his players focused on this year. That is easier said than done.
After BYU lost to Oregon (which again, by itself, isn't that big of a deal), any realistic chance at a big time bowl game went flying right out the window. The at-large bids just aren't in BYU's favor this year. At most, there are two spots that will be up for grabs and it will be a cold day in hell before a one-loss BYU team earns one of them.
So, BYU knows that they are playing for pride and pride alone right now. Seniors and other NFL hopefuls are playing for future paychecks, but beyond that, everyone is playing for pride this year. Whether BYU goes 6-6 or 11-1, their bowl game is probably the same.
That's always been a struggle with independence, but when the Big 12 is so close you can almost taste it (shoutout 'The Hills' theme song), it's even harder to psyche yourself up for a game against a shitty Utah State team on a Thursday night.
I'm not making excuses for this team, but that's something that seems apparent at this point. The players came out flat against Wyoming. They came out flat against Utah State. That's ultimately on the coaching staff, but even they have to be looking forward to the Big 12 - at least a little bit.
All of the things we've said to ourselves about independence being fine and motivation still being there because you never want to lose a football game is mostly just something to make us feel better. Every fan, player, coach, administrator, parent, girlfriend, pet, and professor knows that a conference is more fun. And now BYU is almost back in a conference. They almost get to be part of that chase again. The fake things we said to make us feel better? Pretty fake.
The Oregon loss seems to have made motivation pretty difficult to find, at least against lowly Mountain West Conference teams.
But That Doesn't Excuse BYU From Anything
Don't make the mistake of thinking I'm justifying BYU's attitude coming into games, because I'm not. Frankly, this is a time that Sitake should be evaluating which of his coaches he really wants on his staff in the Big 12. Folks, next year is probably going to be pretty ugly. If BYU is 4-5 at some point next year, Sitake is going to want coaches who are determined to finish the year 7-5, not coaches who say the year is lost because the Big 12 Championship is out of reach.
So, this year's performance still matters. A lack of motivation might be understandable, but that doesn't make it okay.
If this was just a one game problem, I'm blaming the players.
If this was just a one game problem, I'm chalking it up to looking ahead to Notre Dame.
If this was just a one game problem, I'm hardly even paying attention to it and I'm happy with how BYU responded in the second half against Utah State.
But we're on game three now. That's a trend. And it's an ugly trend.
Something has to change and it has to change fast, or Notre Dame and Arkansas will beat the pants off of BYU in the next two weeks.
So Who Should Be Held Accountable?
First and foremost, BYU's coordinators. Ilaisa Tuiaki's group has played like absolute dogshit three weeks in a row.
I'm not here to talk about scheme. I'm not here to talk about recruiting. I'm here to talk about effort. Tuiaki's defense has clearly not cared about getting their butts handed to them on every play. The defense has been undisciplined. The defense has been embarrassingly bad against the run. And for three straight weeks, it's been the same tale.
I'm not smart enough to know what scheme is the right scheme.
I'm not smart enough to know if BYU's coaching the right technique or the wrong technique.
But I am smart enough to look on the field and see a team that doesn't give a shit. And this BYU defense against Oregon and in the first halves against Wyoming and Utah State has not given a shit.
Coaches have to fix scheme and teach technique, but none of that matters at all if coaches can't inspire their players to give a shit. And that's where Tuiaki is failing right now, and that's where my concern is going forward. If that doesn't change, then I don't know how any can conclude that Tuiaki hasn't lost his players and his side of the locker room. If he's lost his locker room, there is no chance in hell he gets back in time for the Big 12.
The offensive side of the ball hasn't been much better, but it has at least been different. Aaron Roderick has made some questionable play calls in recent weeks and most of them have bit him in the butt. But play calls are always bad when they don't work and always great when they do. Playing arm chair quarterback and critiquing play calling is pretty easy to do. Playing calls that work is difficult. A-Rod has earned the benefit of the doubt there.
But A-Rod might have some difficult decisions to make too. His offensive line has not played inspired football. That unit is as talented as we said they were all offseason, they're just not playing like it. Is that Coach Funk? Is that the players looking forward to the NFL? Either of those could be true, but A-Rod has to figure it out.
The running backs have played pretty terribly too. It's easy to point fingers and say the OL has struggled, but the RBs haven't done any favors for themselves. Is that coaching? I'm inclined to say there is something about it that is coaching - or at least a coach's ability to motivate his players.
The BYU running backs are capable of playing well. The Chris Brooks we saw in the fourth quarter was noticeable more aggressive and physical than the Chris Brooks we saw for the last three games. Miles Davis in the second half of games is different than the Miles Davis of the first halves. Whatever happened in the fourth quarter tonight needs to happen out of the gate against Notre Dame. If it doesn't happen, a change might be required.
At The End Of The Day...
BYU is 4-1. When you have to figure out how to fix all the problems of your team, you'd much rather do it as a 4-1 team than a 1-4 team. So it's only right to be fair to the team and establish that 4-1 and ranked is a pretty damn good place for BYU to be.
However, Kalani Sitake can't let 4-1 and ranked be the lipstick covering the pig. The next two weeks are two of the biggest games in the independence era. We're going to learn a lot about who BYU is this year, but more importantly, who BYU can be in the future.
If we learn that BYU isn't who we want them to be, Sitake has to make a change. He has to be comfortable finding people who can take BYU to the next level.
If we learn that BYU's coaches are up to the challenge, then we'll chalk up the last two weeks as two weeks against dogshit teams and a BYU staff that is tired of playing lowly games against the Mountain West. If that's who BYU is, it's frustrating, but the problem will take care of itself when BYU stops playing the Mountain West next year.
Either way, BYU is going to learn something.