BYU in review: Cougars notch another bowl berth under Kalani Sitake; a contract extension may be forthcoming

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young University football players errupt into celebration after hearing the team is headed to the Hawaii Bowl. BYU defeated Idaho State, 42-10, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

Provo • The goal is always the same — to extend the season with a bowl invitation. The Cougars achieved that goal Saturday when they defeated Idaho State 42-10, but the objective went into question more than once throughout the season.

Before the Cougars even played their first game, BYU was expected to start the season 0-4 due to one of the nation's strongest schedules that included playing four Power Five schools in the first four weeks. It would have been a strong blow to start on that large of a losing streak and fight to get six wins in the eight remaining games, but the Cougars defied the odds.

Instead, BYU walked out of the first portion of their schedule with a 2-2 record. It seemed bowl eligibility would be undeniable after that, but then the Cougars faltered.

BYU had disappointing losses at Toledo and South Florida — games the Cougars gave up to opponents’ fourth quarter rallies. It pushed the Cougars into a three-game losing streak and brought up coach Kalani Sitake’s contract extension into conversation.

But then it also sparked a renewed confidence in the team.

The Cougars went on to beat rival Boise State, handing the then-No. 14 team its first loss of the season. BYU repeated their success two weeks later when they got their first win in three years against in-state rival Utah State and brought the Wagon Wheel back to Provo.

On a two-game winning streak, BYU hosted Liberty Nov. 9. Although the Cougars held on to beat the Flames 31-24, the game was riddled with mistakes and felt underwhelming. Against the Bengals, BYU was once again sloppy.

The Cougars committed too many mistakes that are common at the start of the season — not the end. The offensive line allowed the ISU defense to get in their heads and drew four false starts penalties.

In total, BYU lost 85 yards on 12 penalties.

“It was tough at times," wide receiver Talon Shumway said. “Overall as an offense, we can be smoother.”

But BYU was still able to be successful and nabbed their sixth win of the season against the Bengals. Immediately after the game, ESPN Senior Vice President Pete Derzis invited the Cougars to participate in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24. Athletic director Tom Holmoe and Sitake immediately accepted.

“To get the announcement and the invite after the win was fun,” Sitake said. “The guys were really excited about it and we’re excited that we get to extend the season another game and have 15 more practices with our team. It doesn’t hurt that we are going to Hawaii. Everybody knows how I feel about Hawaii — that’s home for me. There is a lot of family and a lot of members of our church and a lot of BYU fans there, so it’ll be fun.”

During the announcement, players could be seen holding a bright blue shirt with “#ExtendKalani” written on the front. When the team went back to the locker room to celebrate, Holmoe was seen wearing the shirt under his jacket.

Although nothing has been confirmed, it seems a decision on Sitake's contract could be made in the very near future.

Three takeaways

  • The BYU defense kept ISU to its third-worst total offense yards of the season with 271. The Bengals’ only three wins of the season came when they had more than 500 total offense yards. Instead, ISU only managed 10 first downs and only got into the red zone once. The Bengals went 2-of-13 on third-down conversions and 1-of-3 on fourth-down conversions. “I thought we were assignment sound — we knew what they were going to do,” defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku said. “They were going to make plays. We could’ve executed a little better, but at the end of the day I thought we did well on all three levels.”

  • Of the Cougars’ 449 total offense yards, 229 came through the air. BYU has now thrown for more than 200 yards in 12 consecutive games — the longest stretch since BYU had 12 games in a row spanning the 2011-12 seasons. It is also the first time the Cougars have thrown for more than 200 yards in every game in a single season since the 2008 season. Zach Wilson threw for 187 yards on 19-of-31 passing, while backup QB Joe Critchlow added 58 yards on 5-of-5 passing.

  • Kicker Jake Oldroyd started the season having made 10 of 11 field goal attempts in the first four games, but has since only made four of his past nine attempts over the past six games. On Saturday, the sophomore missed a 38-yard attempt that would have improved the Cougars to a 31-3 lead at halftime. Sitake said he will have to evaluate the situation, but that should be a kick Oldroyd makes easily — not misses.

“I thought the snap and hold was good, and Jake will have to be accountable for that,” Sitake said. “Those are points that we should have on the board and he knows that he owes the team that. So, we have a lot of trust in him and we have a lot of guys that can kick the ball, too. The competition will continue.”

Player of the game

Sione Finau, freshman, running back.

With Lopini Katoa out on concussion protocol, Finau took over the starting position against Idaho State. The freshman, in turn, delivered the Cougars' first 100-yard rushing game.

Finau ran the ball 16 times for 102 yards and a touchdown.

Sitake said he likes how quick Finau is and how well he does in space, and was particularly happy with the way the freshman handled ball security Saturday.

“I think it was really cool to give him more carries and more opportunities to make plays because he's really good and tough,” Sitake said. “I think he's underrated, because he's a smaller guy, but he's a tough guy. He'll put his head down and get some tough yards for us as well.”

Play of the game

Although negated, on BYU's third drive of the game, Zach Wilson connected with Micah Simon on a 42-yard pass. Simon stretched out for the catch and caught the ball one-handed just as he was about to fall down to the ground.

The Cougars got called for holding, causing the first down to be replayed, but the pass was the first long throw for Wilson in his first game back since fracturing his right (throwing) thumb. It showed the sophomore could still produce passing plays like he did early in the season.

Instead, Wilson's longest pass of the game turned out to be a 26-yard TD pass to Talon Shumway.

Up next

The Cougars will make their fourth trip out east this season when they take on UMass in Amherst on Nov. 23. The Minute Men will look to get their second win of the season when they host BYU for Senior Day.

UMass has averaged 19.4 points per game while opponents are averaging 52.4. The fellow FBS opponent and BYU have met three times previously, with the Cougars the winners of two.