Provo • There are probably better ways to get physically and emotionally ready for rivalry week than to travel halfway across the country and get demolished in every way imaginable while getting a couple running backs banged up and a star defender ejected.
But that’s the cold, hard reality that faced coach Kalani Sitake’s BYU football team Sunday morning.
Having been whitewashed 27-0 by No. 13 LSU on Saturday night and putting up a paltry 97 yards and six first downs, the downtrodden and offensively inept Cougars (1-1) turned their attention to a team they haven’t defeated in the last six tries, the rival Utes (1-0).
“That’s my fault as a coach,” Sitake said after Cougars did not cross the 50-yard line once the entire contest at the Superdome and gained their fewest yards since 92 against Iowa State in 1974. “I have to get this team ready [because] we have a big one coming up next week.”
The only happier group Saturday night than the thousands of LSU fans on Bourbon Street in New Orleans had to be Utah’s defensive coaches, who undoubtedly watched the Cougars’ offense get dominated by an LSU defense that was missing multiple defensive stars and started four true freshmen.
“It was a difficult game and we need to respond better,” Sitake said. “This is adversity for us, and we need to prepare better for next week.”
Utah enters the 8:15 p.m. rivalry game (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) at LaVell Edwards Stadium with two extra days to prepare after dumping FCS North Dakota 37-16 at Rice-Eccles last Thursday. BYU enters with its confidence clearly shaken.
It’s not a good formula for the Cougars to beat the Utes for the first time since 2009.
“We have to rally around guys and find ways to make more plays,” Sitake said. “What [LSU] is doing as a team is something I would love to have as part of our identity.”
The troubling news for BYU is that Utah has a similar identity to LSU — a stingy, athletic defense and a punishing rushing attack. And the Utes have seemingly added more explosiveness to their offense with the addition of receiver Darren Carrington, who was dismissed from Oregon after a DUI arrest this summer.
“We are going to have to be ready for everything with them,” said BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u, who had eight tackles against the Tigers and led a defense that played reasonably well early, but simply wore down as the game went on because the BYU offense could not sustain drives.
Already missing star linebacker Francis Bernard, who is redshirting, the defense will be without Micah Hannemann in the first half against the Utes. The senior safety was ejected for targeting in the second half after a hit on LSU running back Derrius Guice.
First-year LSU offensive coordinator Matt Canada only used “around 10 percent” of his call sheet, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. The Tigers didn’t have to get exotic on offense because they methodically marched down the field and kept the ball for nearly 42 minutes.
But BYU’s biggest problem right now is its offense — or lack thereof.
In two games against teams on both ends of college football’s talent level spectrum — Portland State and LSU — the Cougars have managed just 19 first downs and 462 yards on 99 plays. The Cougars are a long way from the days of former offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s “go hard, go fast” attack.
“I am frustrated, but I gotta keep moving forward,” said BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, who placed the blame for the offense’s struggles on himself and his “inaccurate” throws. “We can’t let this drag on. We have to forget about it and get back to work and put all our energy and all our effort into our opponent next week.”