Provo • A former BYU fullback, coach Kalani Sitake has some big shoulders, and they are coming in handy right about now as the Cougars are experiencing a nightmare season.
Sitake, whose career record is now 10-9 after Friday’s 24-7 loss to Boise State, the team’s fifth straight defeat, said in his weekly press briefing Monday that he is shouldering the blame for the program’s worst start since 1973.
“The kids are doing everything we have asked and I am not coaching well enough. That’s what it comes down to,” Sitake said as the 1-5 Cougars began preparing for Saturday’s game at Mississippi State, which had a bye last weekend. The Bulldogs (3-2), who fell 28-21 to BYU last year in double overtime, are more than three-touchdown favorites, so Sitake’s winning record as a coach is in serious jeopardy.
But the coach barely talked about the SEC opponent on Monday, because his own team is struggling at historic levels. BYU hasn’t lost five straight games in the same season since 1970.
“Our goal is to be balanced and right now we are not doing anything that is really good. The only thing we are balanced at is being bad,” Sitake said.
Even when he was given the chance to lay the blame on the offense, which ranks among the worst in major college football, Sitake directed the blame on himself.
“Obviously, it is on me. Our offensive issues are my fault,” Sitake said. “So, yeah, I am in there in the mix with them [working on it]. We are trying to get it fixed, because it is causing us a lot of [problems] in the other two phases.”
BYU at Mississippi State
Saturday, 10 a.m. MDT
TV • SEC Network
Sitake said “morale is good” and he doesn’t feel like he has to be a psychologist or a mental strength coach. He said the players remain motivated to turn around the season and practices and film sessions Saturday and Monday were positive and energized.
“There is no quit in them,” Sitake said. “All we can do is put in the work and see what happens. … I don’t blame the players. They give us all the effort. Us as coaches got to get it done.”
Obviously, poor quarterback play is at the heart of BYU’s offensive struggles, Sitake acknowledged Friday after the Boise State loss. Tanner Mangum returned after missing two games with an ankle injury, but threw two interceptions and was ineffective after a solid start.
With 2:17 remaining in Friday’s loss, BYU coaches inserted freshman Joe Critchlow into the game, altering the hoped-for plan to redshirt the recently returned missionary.
However, Sitake said it wasn’t necessarily a sign that they plan to use Critchlow more moving forward.
“I think he will be in the mix,” Sitake said. “We will see what happens.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ty Detmer said later Monday on his Coordinators’ Corner program that “we are pretty set with [Mangum] as the starter, with Joe getting reps behind him.”
Mangum’s backup, Beau Hoge, did not dress for the game because of a concussion, which is why Critchlow went in, Sitake explained, not mentioning why third-stringer Koy Detmer Jr. or Austin Kafentzis wasn’t used to take the final few snaps.
“What Tanner did in the first quarter was really good for us,” Sitake said. “We just need to be consistent as a group and that’s a job for the coaches to get done. I think Joe being in the mix was because Beau was banged up and not healed yet and wasn’t able to go last week. So we will see how that progresses with Beau as well. So that probably had more to do [with Critchlow playing] than anything else.”
Cornerback Troy Warner said the defense can’t point fingers at the offense, because it hasn’t played up to expectations, either.
“If we are frustrated, it is not going to help anything, to be honest with you,” Warner said. “Because any type of negativity or just any sign of frustration with the offense is not going to motivate them.”
Meanwhile, BYU’s depth chart continues to change, due to injuries.
Linebacker Matt Hadley and receiver Talon Shumway, both starters, are no longer listed and presumed to be out with injuries, which BYU doesn’t discuss unless they are season-ending. Projected starting tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau is still recovering from a late-camp foot injury, and Sitake said the junior’s prospects of returning are “looking bleak” but didn’t rule it out.
He did acknowledge that defensive tackle Tevita Mo’unga is done for the season and will seek a medical redshirt. Freshman defensive tackle Lorenzo Fauatea left the Boise State game with an undisclosed injury and is also off the depth chart now.