BYU in review: The postseason awaits, but face-plant in San Diego will leave a sour taste for Cougars

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake takes the field as Brigham Young University takes on Idaho State, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019 at LaVell Edwards Stadium. BYU lost to SDSU on Saturday. “I have to go and evaluate it again,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said of the loss. “That’s not indicative of what we can do. Whatever the answer is, we’ll find it and make sure we perform better.”

San Diego • While BYU seemed to struggle with consistency in the first half of the season, the Cougars seemingly got it under control since.

Not anymore — BYU is back to square one.

Against San Diego State University, the Cougars struggled to establish a running game, turned over the ball three times while playing the air game, missed six points on two field goals, and lost 13-3.

“I have to go and evaluate it again,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “That’s not indicative of what we can do. Whatever the answer is, we’ll find it and make sure we perform better.”

The loss snapped a five-game winning streak and a six-game win streak over the Aztecs.

While BYU has bigger rivalries against Utah and Utah State, SDSU’s dislike of the Cougars is second to none. The Aztecs didn’t like that BYU routinely won during their old WAC and Mountain West days, and especially didn’t like that the Cougars played nine of the first 10 years in the Holiday Bowl (a bowl designed to help give SDSU postseason action at home).

“BYU is a very good football team and they are a class act,” SDSU coach Rocky Long said. “So, any chance you have to play them, you know you’re going to get their best and we gave our best tonight. I guess we made our field goals and they missed theirs, so we actually won the game.”

With the regular season over, the Cougars will have a few weeks to work on figuring out what caused them to go back to their early-season troubles before making their 37th bowl appearance.

“Tonight, something happened and [I] can’t really pinpoint exactly what it was,” linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi said. “I think we kind of figured out how to be better and what to do, but tonight they just got us.”

Three takeaways

  • The Cougars’ kicking woes continue. After going 10 for 11 in the first four games (the only miss from 44 yards), season starter Jake Oldroyd nailed only four of his next 10 attempts. During practice, Skyler Southam won the competition for placekicker, but the sophomore made only one of his three attempts against SDSU. “Obviously, it didn’t pan out,” Sitake said. “I still believe in those guys. They’ve shown that they can kick the ball well — it just hasn’t up the last few weeks. That needs to change and I’ll try to get that fixed.”

  • Of BYU’s 12 drives, half ended in Aztec territory. Yet, the Cougars managed only three points. The only two 80-yard drives fell short with missed field goal attempts. The next best drive spanned 54 yards on seven plays, but BYU turned the ball over on downs. The offense was 6 of 17 on third-down conversions and 1 of 3 on red zone attempts.

  • Although the offense struggled, BYU passed for more than 200 yards for the 14th consecutive game. It is the longest streak since 19 games in a row across the 2007 and 2008 seasons. The Cougars passed for 338 yards against the Aztecs. Even though Zach Wilson led the passing game (316 yards on 58% passing), Aleva Hifo also got in on the action. The wide receiver connected with Matt Bushman on a 22-yard reception to become the sixth BYU player this season to complete a pass.

Player of the game

The BYU defense.

Six Cougars — Isaiah Kaufusi, Payton Wilgar, Dayan Ghanwoloku, Atunaisa Mahe, Lorenzo Fauatea and Trajan Pili — had a tackle for loss to lead the defense. As a group, the defense gave up the second-least points of the season, but it was not enough to secure a win.

It was the second game of the Sitake era in which BYU allowed fewer than 14 points and did not win. The first came last year when BYU fell to Northern Illinois 7-6.

“The score showed we gave up 13 points, which should be OK, but we had zero turnovers and those are the things that really can change games,” Kaufusi said. “They had three turnovers and they won the game. Looking back at it, just really frustrated that I couldn’t produce turnovers and takeaways. I had opportunities to and just kind of missed those.”

Play of the game

BYU’s failed flea-flicker.

The play highlighted the Aztecs' defense, which held BYU to a season-low three points.

Toward the end of the third quarter, on a second-and-2 situation on the Aztecs’ 40-yard line, Wilson went with a slow-developing flea-flicker play. Wilson saw an open field, which would have led to a touchdown. What he didn’t see was SDSU safety Tariq Thompson coming up from behind over to his right side.

Thompson swatted at Wilson's right (throwing) arm for a strip sack for a loss of 10 yards.

“That’s the risk we take on that play — it’s a long, developing play,” Wilson said. “We were hoping to not have, obviously, a fumble like that, but in games like that, that’s what the defense is built to do. To cause havoc like that. It’s super frustrating.”

Up next

BYU will have more than three weeks to prepare for its appearance in the 2019 So’Fi Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24. The Cougars will face a team from the American Athletic Conference or Mountain West.

Hawaii, of the Mountain West, has an automatic berth, but it has not yet been extended a formal invitation because of the Rainbow Warriors’ berth in the Mountain West Championship.

This is the Cougars’ first Hawaii Bowl appearance but their second postseason game in Honolulu, where they played in the 1992 Aloha Bowl and fell to Kansas by three points.