Gordon Monson: Disappointment and doubts created, Kalani Sitake knows BYU has to get better

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars tight end Masen Wake (13) leaps over the top of UTSA Roadrunners cornerback Corey Mayfield Jr. (26) in football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the UTSA Roadrunners, at Lavell Edwards stadium, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.

Don’t stop us if you’ve heard this before. Some of it you haven’t.

BYU defeated its majorly undermanned opponent on Saturday.

That sentence ultimately covers all of the Cougars' first four games and you could slip in all of the victims' names — Navy, Troy, Louisiana Tech and Saturday’s actual foe, UTSA, which stands for University of Texas-San Antonio, although the school prefers the abbreviated alphabetical form of identification.

The visiting Roadrunners at LaVell’s Place could have used any number of acronyms or initialisms, but … hold on, quite surprisingly, SOS or ROFL or OMG or MIA or POS or SMH or AWOL or DOA or WTF would not be among them.

And that was utterly unexpected.

As was the tight final score: the Cougars 27, the Acronym 20.

All of BYU’s opponents this season have had that shared characterization/condition/designation — huge underdog, UTSA a five-touchdown dog coming in. They also now have two other commonalities — a loss to BYU and none of them are particularly good at football.

BYU, OTOH, is good at football, supposedly so, better than UTSA, no matter how you abbreviate it.

The question remains: how good?

The Cougars established their winning in a different, upside-down manner here, in a casual, uninspired one. They triumphed, but not in a way that would impress those who hold sway over positioning for opportunity in postseason college football.

Nor their head coach, Kalani Sitake, who afterward said he would celebrate the win, but focus more on comprehensive improvement moving forward.

“We’ll learn from this and get better,” he said.

Sitake added: “We know we can play a lot cleaner.”

But once more, the Cougars cleared a low bar. There was that.

This time, barely.

The clearing started late, with BYU making mistakes, turning the ball over, committing penalties, calling poor plays, failing to convert on fourth down, yielding drives to the Roadrunners, allowing yardage on the ground and through the air. UTSA even scored first, on a field goal, marking the first time this season the Cougars trailed. Another first — the initial quarter was the only one among 16 of them so far in which BYU didn’t score.

It was all Roadrunners for the first 10 minutes.

Then, it wasn’t. Then … well, the whole thing slid into a sloppy bog.

After taking a hiccuped 14-3 lead into halftime, BYU burped and belched some more, giving up another field goal in the third quarter and a couple of touchdown passes in the fourth. The Cougars managed 470 offensive yards, all told, considerably fewer than their average, and scored only four times.

While never looking completely vulnerable in this game, at least not in the form of an authentic loss to the Roadrunners, the Cougars did not appear to be what they hoped and thought they were and what the polls ranked them as prior to — the 15th-best team in the country.

UTSA’s defense put up enough resistance to disrupt BYU’s blocking schemes, at times, pushing and pressuring Zach Wilson in the pocket. At every previous moment this season, the Cougar quarterback had operated out of utter Barcalounger-like comfort, easily perusing the field for an open receiver, sometimes having difficulty making a single selection out of a plethora of choices.

Against UTSA, that was … disjointed and inconsistent.

BYU’s massive offensive front failed to build the wall it usually had heretofore, forcing Wilson to dance around a bit. It’s not as though that group was horrible, it just didn’t live up to its three-game rep.

Wilson threw for 292 yards, but running backs Tyler Allgeier (116 yards) and Lopini Katoa (36) were underutilized against UTSA, and that lack of usage did not help BYU’s herky-jerky cause.

The Cougar defense also appeared sluggish and even worse, distracted and disinterested, and maybe beyond all that, not all that good.

Roadrunner Sincere McCormick, who came into the game as FBS’s leading rusher, got a mere 42 yards. But UTSA totaled 359 yards on attack, 287 of them coming via the pass.

If all this sounds overly critical, what should the expectations be when BYU is a 35-point favorite?

There really wasn’t much accomplished, then, in this game, other than a W. Ordinarily, that would be enough. But in a strange COVID-ravaged season, in which the Cougars were forced to swap out a challenging schedule for a badly compromised one, they must do more than that. They must play to their potential and crush the dogs they face.

They could not manage that on Saturday, against a team that has only squeaked by mediocre opponents of its own this season.

What exactly does that do? It creates doubts about what BYU is and what it isn’t.

At 4-0, it’s a winner. Nothing more, and maybe something less.

Said Sitake: “We’ll do everything we can to get it back on track.”

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.