BYU football: Cougars hold players-only meeting, vow to turn season around — starting with Friday’s visit to USU

Coach Kalani Sitake says “too early” to tell when QB Tanner Mangum will return from ankle injury

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Fred Warner (4) tries to calm the crowd after a Utah interception as BYU hosts Utah, NCAA football in Provo, Saturday September 9, 2017.

Provo • BYU is an embarrassed, angry and frustrated football team.

But at least the Cougars are united.

That’s the message coach Kalani Sitake and senior captain Fred Warner delivered Monday as the 1-3 Cougars returned from their bye week and talked extensively about how eager they are to get their season turned around on Friday (6 p.m., CBS Sports Network) at suddenly dangerous Utah State.

“You will see a different team this week,” Warner said.

After a bye week filled with recruiting, evaluation of their previous four games, scouting the Aggies and mostly player-run practices, the Cougars said the focus this week will be to make sure their execution in practice translates to better play during games.

That’s especially true of the offense, which more than likely will again be without starting quarterback Tanner Mangum, still recovering from a left ankle injury. The Cougars are dead last in the country in scoring offense, the only team averaging fewer than 10 points per game (9.8).

Sitake said it is “still too early to make a definitive decision on this weekend” regarding Mangum’s return, but the second-year coach was probably just being coy.

Redshirt sophomore Beau Hoge almost certainly will get his second straight start.

“We just need to be more consistent,” Sitake said. “We are probably speaking more offensively than anything else. Defensively we have done some good things. It has not been perfect, but when you have one phase that doesn’t do as well, and not even do well, but when it is doing horrible, it affects the other two phases.”

BYU at Utah State<br>Friday, 6 p.m.<br>TV • CBSSN

Although the depth chart’s only changes are the placement of the word “or” between the names of Mangum and Hoge at quarterback and the dropping of the injured KJ Hall from the halfback position, Sitake hinted at some personnel changes as the Cougars get ready for a USU offense that put 61 points and 589 yards on San Jose State and an Aggie defense that held the Spartans to 10 points, better than even Utah did.

“Our injured guys are improving, and I don’t know what else to say about that,” Sitake said. “You will see different bodies in different places, but nothing too extravagant. … There are some different looks. I don’t want to give anything away.”

The Cougars got together for weightlifting sessions, practices without coaches who were out recruiting, and film sessions Monday through Thursday, then had the weekend off, Sitake said.

“The goal is to make sure they play like they practice, because there is a lot of great talent there and a lot of great coaches,” Sitake said. “The scheme is good. We just got to execute it better and basically do what we have been doing in practice. We have had success against our defense in practices and we just need to make sure we do that against the other teams that we play. And that’s a big part of the frustration, is that transferring over from the practices to the games is not happening consistently and we look forward to doing that on Friday.”

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake shouts in the first half during an NCAA college football game against Southern Utah, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Provo, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Two days after the loss to Wisconsin, captains Warner, Mangum, Tejan Koroma and Butch Pau’u called a players-only meeting in the stands at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Warner said he was “super frustrated” with “this awful taste in my mouth” in the locker room after the game and called the meeting “to get on the same page” with his teammates.

“We really needed that, because I wasn’t going to continue to go every week without saying anything and then just have a season where we just don’t live up to the expectation like I want us to,” Warner said. “So the players’ meeting was really good.”

Sitake said the meeting was a “good sign” that the players recognize things need to change.

“That’s what we are trying to promote with our players, is to lead this team,” he said. “I have said it before: This is their team. I want them to feel like they have a say in what we do as a program.”