Foxborough, Mass. • Fullback Brayden El-Bakri kept staring at the scoreboard high above LaVell Edwards Stadium, wondering when BYU’s offense was going to bust out like it had the previous week against UNLV and bury the visiting Minutemen of the University of Massachusetts.
It never happened, and the Cougars were handed perhaps their most embarrassing home loss, a 16-10 disaster, in a half-century. It was the lowest point in an eventual 4-9 season filled with lows. Many believe the abysmal offensive performance led to offensive coordinator Ty Detmer losing his job.
“That was a real big bummer,” El-Bakri said a year later. “I just remember sitting there on the sidelines thinking, ‘Oh my, what just happened here?’ I felt like, ’It is going to break open. It is going to break open. It is going to break open.’ It was one of those lull-type games. After the game, you are like, ‘What happened? What is going on?’
Saturday morning, about 2,100 miles from the site of that 16-10 loss, the Cougars (4-5) will get their long-awaited rematch with the Minutemen (4-6) at the NFL stadium that former Cougar defensive star Kyle Van Noy and legendary New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady call home.
BYU and UMass will meet for the third time (BYU won the first meeting, 51-9) at 10 a.m. MST at Gillette Stadium.
Revenge and redemption are the obvious pregame storylines, but BYU coach Kalani Sitake and his players have generally dismissed those factors this week. The more pressing matter is bouncing back after two close losses — 7-6 to Northern Illinois and 21-16 to Boise State — and getting a step closer to bowl eligibility. Another loss would likely crush those postseason dreams, seeing as how the Cougars finish the season at Utah, where they haven’t won since 2006.
“Our guys have a memory of last year’s game,” Sitake said. “More than anything we are just really hungry to get a win, especially after the last two weeks. … We just need to go into this game ready to go. We need to minimize our mistakes, and if we have that type of effort from our players and the belief that they have given us, then it is up to us coaches to get them in the right position to have success and win this game.”
Because the game is being played in the Eastern Time Zone with a noon local time kickoff, the Cougars flew to Boston on Thursday afternoon after practicing in Provo that morning. They saw the stadium for the first time Friday.
“It will be a lot of fun,” Sitake said, downplaying the challenges of the longest road trip of the season. “We are looking forward to seeing our East Coast fans out there.”
A cold, partly-cloudy day is expected at the stadium 30 miles southwest of Boston, with temperatures in the low 40s.
“Offensively, our guys need to be clicking and just finish drives when they get in the red zone, score touchdowns and not kick a lot of field goals, and I think we will be OK,” Sitake said.
Last year, UMass quarterback Andrew Ford was 21 of 35 for 230 yards and threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Andy Isabella. However, He’s been replaced by Ross Comis, who is also a capable passer but looks to run more.
Isabella is not only back, he leads the NCAA in receiving yards (1,394) and posted a school-record 303 receiving yards in UMass’ triple-overtime win over Liberty last week.
“You guys have seen him,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said of Isabella. “You’ve seen his numbers. Phenomenal player. Really fast, really. good player. We all have to work together as a whole in the secondary to keep him bottled up.”
The Cougars are 6-4 in their last 10 games played in an NFL stadium, but haven’t played in one since losing to LSU at the Superdome in New Orleans in 2017.
“It means a lot,” said BYU safety Austin Lee. “There is a lot of history there. There are a lot of great things that have happened there, and hopefully we can just continue to make more history and greatness on those fields. I am excited to play there.”
And perhaps erase some awful memories of last year’s game in Provo.
BYU AT UMASS
At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Kickoff • Saturday, 10 a.m. MST
TV • BYUtv
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 4-5, UMass 4-6
Series history • Tied, 1-1
Last meeting • UMass 16, BYU 10 (Nov. 18, 2017)
About the Minutemen • Senior receiver Andy Isabella reset the school record with 303 receiving yards in the 62-59 triple-overtime win over Liberty last week and is the leading receiver in the country with 1,394 yards. … They will host BYU next season at their on-campus stadium in Amherst, Mass. … LB Bryton Barr is third in the country in total tackles with 123.
About the Cougars • They are 6-4 in their last 10 games played in NFL stadiums. … This is their longest trip of the season, covering around 4,200 miles round trip. They will have traveled 10,000 miles by season’s end, after traveling 17,000 miles last year when Hawaii was on the schedule. … They are 26th in the country in total defense, allowing just 334.1 points per game. They are 118th in the country in total offense, gaining an average of 333.1 yards per game.