Provo • BYU ran roughly 70 plays in its 80-minute scrimmage on Saturday to wrap up its five-week spring football camp at waterlogged LaVell Edwards Stadium. Collectively, only three penalties were committed in the rain and there were no turnovers, remarkable considering the conditions.
It was a far cry from the 2017 spring scrimmage when interceptions, fumbles and yellow flags ruled the day.
Coaches opened the camp back on March 5 preaching the need for more accountability and discipline in the program after last year’s miserable 4-9 season, saying they needed to re-establish a culture of commitment, effort and dedication that seemed to be lacking in head coach Kalani Sitake’s second year.
The end of 15 spring practices would mark a checkpoint for the program, assistant head coach Ed Lamb said in late February. So how are the Cougars doing?
“We are moving in the right direction,” said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, whose hiring in December signaled a move toward more player accountability, especially on offense. “We have certainly made up a lot of ground in terms of building the right mindset and guys willing to be coached and willing to work hard, but we are not where we want to be yet. … Our culture is moving to what we want it to ultimately be and with a great summer and a great fall camp I believe we will get there.”
After catching four passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, receiver Micah Simon concurred. The junior who has been called the “alpha” of the receiving corps by assistant coach Fesi Sitake said there is a different mindset in Provo.
“It is a different culture from last year to this year,” Simon said. “We are not taking anything for granted. We are not slacking in any area. We are doing it as a unit, together, and just pushing ourselves to hold to that.”
Simon, sophomore quarterback Joe Critchlow and senior running back Squally Canada were the stars of the day, and Critchlow attributed the success to effort and execution after directing three of the five scoring drives.
“The core of that new culture is to execute,” Critchlow said. “Today, the fact that we didn’t have any turnovers, that we were moving the ball and getting first downs, we showed that we are trying to adapt that culture as an offense. … I feel like we are coming together with that.”
Although mildly disappointed in the play of the defense Saturday, Kalani Sitake said the program made strides in the offseason and spring practices after an intense meeting days after the 2017 season ended with a win at Hawaii when players and coaches alike committed to turning the program around.
“It takes time to establish a culture,” Sitake said. “It isn’t just something that happens at the snap of a finger. I have a vision of what our culture should be. I will never be LaVell [Edwards], but I am trying to do what is [aligned] with my personality, and what is best for our program, and I need the leadership and the coaches on this team to push the culture as we go through. So far it is working really well, and I like what I am seeing.”
That said, Sitake acknowledged there are still plenty of concerns, on and off the field. BYU demands a lot of its student-athletes, he said, referencing the strict academic standards, honor code and other factors that make the school unique.
On the field, the scrimmage showed some shortcomings defensively, especially the front seven. Granted, some projected starters didn’t play, but the unit was noticeably pushed around all day and had trouble stopping the run and containing mobile quarterbacks Beau Hoge and Zach Wilson.
“I am concerned with everything,” Sitake said. “That’s always the case. Although I am pleased, there is nothing that doesn’t worry me. So, we will figure it all out. Right now, we are paying attention to every detail as a coaching staff and making sure we are all ready to go. We might be a little bit over prepared, but that’s better than anything else. We will be prepared for everything.”
BYU KEY DATES
June 22 • Football media day.
Aug. 3 • Preseason camp begins.
Sept. 1 • Season opener at Arizona.