The perfect storm: How BYU football fell off a cliff in 2017

Analysis • Explaining the Cougars’ collapse is complicated because it’s due to a number of shortcomings, from top to bottom

East Carolina's Trevon Brown (88) tries to break away from BYU's Dayan Ghanwoloku (5) \during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Greenville, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Provo • As the embarrassing and lopsided losses have piled up in what will become BYU’s first losing season since 2004, national college football observers have marveled at the collapse.

The program has crumbled, fallen off a cliff and disintegrated, they’ve written and opined on social media and through the airwaves.

It’s true.

The Cougars have not only lost seven straight games — they haven’t been close to winning since the 19-13 loss to rival Utah, a game in which they were dominated statistically but had a slim chance at the end with the ball on their 8-yard line and one minute, 34 seconds remaining.

What in the name of LaVell Edwards has happened?

Well, take it from someone who has covered the team since 2008, Bronco Mendenhall’s fourth season, and viewed live all but two of the 125 games during that period.

It’s complicated.

The best explanation is that it has been a perfect storm. Myriad factors — BYU’s traditional recruiting shortcomings, the overestimation of returning talent, a lot of blunders from a relatively inexperienced coaching staff, another wicked early-season schedule and an overwhelming number of injuries — have converged in 2017 to leave the Cougars with one of the worst teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Everything that could go wrong has seemingly gone wrong.

You can’t say that it won’t leave a mark. In fact, it already has. The Cougars have lost three recruits to the University of Utah in the past couple of weeks, for example, although, at least one has said he had decommitted before the season of infamy began.

The biggest fear among most BYU fans and former players The Salt Lake Tribune has spoken to the past few weeks is that the effects of this dismal season will last for years. It’s hard to disagree with them.

Even the Cougars are having trouble explaining their worst season since 1968.

“Um, to be honest, I am not quite sure,” said well-spoken left tackle Thomas Shoaf.

Said the Cougars’ best player, senior linebacker Fred Warner: “It is a group thing. It is a team game. Everybody at all levels is at fault for how we have done this season.”

So the players are putting it on themselves, and the coaches are taking their share of the blame. Athletic director Tom Holmoe is not blameless, either. He put together these brutal early-season schedules.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU's Athletic Director Tom Holmoe is happy with the move to independence in football, saying he would do it again. “It has given us new energy and additional opportunities. We were in a good spot before, but I believe we are better off now.”

It was easy to endorse independence as the correct route for BYU back in 2010 when rival Utah was invited to the Pac-12, but like Mendenhall and others, it is fair to wonder if this is sustainable. Lack of resources, and being hugely disadvantaged when it comes to recruiting against he Utes and their Power Five status, has weakened the BYU football brand.

Above Holmoe, BYU’s administrators and the folks on the board of trustees who really govern the school seem to place more value on facilities than people. The trustees want athletics to thrive and be successful, but it doesn’t appear to be a priority. And they haven’t been willing to pay for it. That’s reflected in what coach Kalani Sitake could offer his assistants when he built his staff.

Mendenhall was good for BYU, but recruiting wasn’t one of his strengths, and aside from once-in-a-generation players such as Jamaal Williams and Taysom Hill, he didn’t leave the new staff a lot with which to work. The former staff was especially negligent in recruiting quality offensive linemen and skill position players, real difference-makers.

And, as has been mentioned before, Sitake and offensive coordinator Ty Detmer should have hit the junior college ranks or graduate transfer market last winter for a receiver, a running back and perhaps a quarterback. Instead, they said freshmen and guys coming off redshirts would become household names. Aside from tight end Matt Bushman, they haven’t.

Sitake suggested on Monday that the Cougars need to get more aggressive, especially on offense. But Detmer’s attack is outdated, and he hasn’t shown much creativity. The Cougars aren’t talented enough in the trenches to just power past opponents, as they did in his era.

As for the injuries, it is difficult to subscribe to the notion that they are a function of a difficult schedule. For instance, tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau, whose absence has been glaring this season, suffered a foot injury in practice. And cornerback Troy Warner was hurt on a non-contact play against East Carolina.

Add it all up, and Sitake has a 1-7 team on his hands, with not much hope of a sudden turnaround. The perfect storm isn’t over.

San Jose State at BYU<br>At LaVell Edwards Stadium<br>Kickoff • 1 p.m.<br>TV • BYUtv<br>Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143<br>Records • BYU 1-7, SJS 1-7<br>Series history • SJS leads, 10-7<br>Last meeting • BYU 17, SJS 16 (Nov. 15, 2016)<br>About the Spartans • Coach Brent Brennan is in his first season and was on the Oregon State coaching staff with BYU coach Kalani Sitake and defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki in 2015. … They haven’t played since a 37-26 loss to Hawaii on Oct. 14 and have lost six straight games. …They are 115th in the nation in total offense, averaging 329.5 yards per game, and 119th in total defense, giving up 480.1 yards per game.<br>About the Cougars • Freshman tight end Matt Bushman is No. 5 in receptions (28) among tight ends in the FBS. His 276 yards rank No. 14 among tight ends in receiving yards. … They had 319 passing yards in last week’s 33-17 loss at East Carolina, the first time they have passed for more than 200 yards since the Southern Utah game last November. … Sophomore WR Aleva Hifo leads them in receiving yards, with 278.