Provo • Congratulatory phone calls and text messages poured in for BYU football coach Kalani Sitake after the Cougars upset No. 6-ranked Wisconsin on Saturday, including one from Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
“Anybody that is connected with BYU or connected with me, they reached out,” Sitake said in Monday’s weekly news briefing as the Cougars turned their attention to McNeese State, an FCS opponent from Lake Charles, La. “So you can pretty much guess. There was a lot.”
Pressed for a number, Sitake said he got 420 text messages, including notes from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, Utah assistant Gary Andersen, and Reid, a former BYU player.
“I answered every one of them back,” Sitake said. “More than when I got the [BYU] job. … Former players here and other places. Yeah, I just really appreciate people that are involved, and people that support me personally and support the program. It has been such a cool thing to see and our players appreciate it, too.”
BYU cracked the national rankings for the first time in Sitake’s three-year tenure on Sunday, landing at No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25. At least two websites had named BYU their national team of the week by Monday afternoon.
Defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi said the win over the Big Ten powerhouse and the ensuing national ranking validates the hard work and dedication they put forth in the offseason, but doesn’t mean they are anywhere near finished.
“It means a lot, but more than anything think it means more to the people that doubted us,” Kaufusi said. “And I think that is what is big for us, is that a lot of people have doubted us and a lot of people were kind of unsure of things. I think we put a lot of that uncertainty to rest.”
Sitake was appreciative of the accolades, but he stressed it won’t change the Cougars’ preparation for the Cowboys, who are 3-0. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
The Cougars drew just more than 52,000 for their first home game, against California. It will be interesting to see if they surpass that for a late-afternoon game against a lower-division team after garnering all kinds of goodwill with the upset of Wisconsin.
“It definitely doesn’t change us players’ [thoughts],” Kaufusi said. “Some would say it is even a harder game. I remember I used to hear a lot about trap games. You come in and you beat a big team like Wisconsin and then it is a trap game if you play a small school next because now you have the target. We took the target off Wisconsin, and now the target is on us. And so we believe that they are going to be coming full speed ahead after us. So we gotta be on top of our game.”
Because of wildfires in the mountains southeast of Provo, a smoky haze has enveloped the southern end of Utah County, but Sitake isn’t concerned that the game might have to be canceled or moved. He even said the Cougars planned to practice outdoors on Monday afternoon, because he could still see Mount Timpanogos from his office window.
Sitake said playing easy and free against Wisconsin was the remedy after the disappointing 21-18 home loss to California, and he plans to make sure his players continue having that attitude.
“We were prepared and focused on having a good time, and I think it worked out,” he said. “That’s how we have to play. We have to play a little loose, like we have got nothing to lose. That’s the same approach we are going to go with this week. … We will try to keep it as much the same as possible.”
Although Kaufusi referred to a “trap game,” he claimed to not know who BYU plays next week. The Cougars travel to Seattle to take on No. 10 Washington on Sept. 29. Kickoff time for that game was set Monday and is 5:30 p.m. MDT. It will be televised nationally by Fox.
Although linebacker Butch Pau’u, fullback Brayden El-Bakri and receiver Neil Pau’u weren’t able to play against Wisconsin due to injury, Sitake said none of the injuries is season-ending and he expects most of the players will be back this week.
Cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku suffered a left ankle injury that caused him to miss the entire second half against the Badgers, but is also expected to return soon. Offensive lineman Thomas Shoaf is also nursing a hand injury, so freshman Keanu Saleapaga started in his place at left guard vs. the Badgers and played well.
“We have been banged up. With the three Power Five opponents we have faced so far, we have had a few injuries here and there, but nothing too taxing,” Sitake said. “Our guys should heal up. We should have more guys back this week than we had last week.”
McNeese State at BYU, 4 p.m. MDT