Provo • With their 2018 football season having reached a midway point, the BYU Cougars face an identity crisis.
Coach Kalani Sitake said after the devastating 45-20 loss to Utah State that the Cougars don’t know who they are.
“We had three really good games where I felt like we had an identity and knew what we were about,” Sitake said. “We need to find a way to get that back.”
The 3-3 Cougars’ season that got off to such a promising start with road upsets of Arizona and Wisconsin is now definitely at a crossroads. Their goal of at least six wins and a return to bowl eligibility that appeared likely when they improved to 3-1 with a 30-3 win over McNeese on Sept. 22 is no longer a given.
Sitake insisted late Saturday that all is not lost.
“Our guys still believe,” he said. “I believe in our players. I believe in our team. We talked about it in the locker room. We are not playing BYU football. We are not playing our style of football. We are not utilizing our strengths and as we we evaluate everything, we have an extra day to really evaluate all of it, from top to bottom, and get this thing right so we can start on Monday and get ready for the Hawaii game.”
The Cougars will host the Warriors at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. It looked like one of the few games the Cougars could count on winning when the season began because the Cougars dumped the Warriors 30-20 last November in the islands. But coach Nick Rolovich has Hawaii on a roll. The Warriors improved to 6-1 with a 17-13 win over Wyoming on Saturday, despite freshman quarterback Chevan Cordeiro making his first start.
Cordeiro started in the place of Cole McDonald, who entered the weekend as the nation’s leading passer but was held out with an unspecified injury. McDonald has thrown for 2,100 yards and 24 touchdowns.
The Cougars ran for just 34 yards against Washington and 39 against USU. They had to abandon the run in both games because they fell behind quickly in both, but the dink-and-dunk passing game was mostly ineffective as well.
“We had an identity of running the ball, and we need to evaluate everything and find what we are about,” Sitake said. “That is at every position, every scheme, all that stuff, to see where things broke down.”
HAWAII AT BYU
When • Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Sophomore tight end Matt Bushman had the breakout game fans have been waiting for with four catches for 78 yards against the Aggies (4-1). He said costly early mistakes are causing the offense to get away from its identity too quickly.
“When you go down 21-zip in the first half, you gotta start throwing the ball,” he said. “You gotta take shots and you have to take a step back, not run the ball as much. That’s what we had to do. It was unfortunate, but yeah, … We gotta figure it out. We can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Receiver Talon Shumway, who had a career-high 110 receiving yards against the Aggies, said the players trust Sitake and offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes to solve their identity crisis.
Making drastic changes “maybe implies the coaches are panicking, and that’s just not the case at all,” Shumway said. “Something about coach Grimes is that he is a rock. We like throwing the ball. We like running the ball. We will find our groove. We got all the confidence in the world in our coaches and in each other. From this point forward, things are going to have an upward trend.”
Even before Sitake arrived, BYU’s defense prided itself on being able to stop the run, linebacker Zayne Anderson said. Somehow, the Cougars held run-oriented Wisconsin to 204 yards on the ground, but gave up 187 to well-balanced Washington and then 223 to Utah State.
“That’s just not us. Last week wasn’t us. This week wasn’t us. Those first three games, we kind of built our identity as a tough, smart team,” Anderson said. “I feel like we are kind of falling away from that. … Our pride and joy is stopping the run. That’s what our defense is, that’s what BYU defense is the past three or four years. And yeah, it just comes down to executing, tackling. We are not doing our fundamentals right now. It starts with preparation from individuals. I feel like our coaches put us in good spots, but we can prep more as individuals.”