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Kalani Sitake has helped the Cougars upset Arizona State before. Can the BYU football coach do it again?

After beating rival Utah, the No. 23 Cougars look to extend their 11-game home win streak

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young head coach Kalani Sitake amps up the crowd before the Cougars play the Utah Utes in football, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 in Provo.

A big game against Arizona State? Kalani Sitake has been here before.

The No. 19 Sun Devils are headed to Provo to take on the No. 23 BYU Cougars on Saturday. ASU and BYU haven’t faced each other on the gridiron since 1998.

Back then, the Cougars’ current head coach was wearing pads and a helmet.

As a sophomore fullback at the time, Sitake made a 2-yard rushing play and a 25-yard catch. That reception could have been converted into a touchdown, but the sixth-year BYU coach recalls being tripped from behind by an Arizona State linebacker. Nevertheless, an unranked BYU team pulled off an upset over the No. 14 Sun Devils, 26-6.

“I remember that game, it was a lot of fun,” Sitake said Monday. “I like the games against ASU — they have a great fan base. … It’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s a lot of people that we know on that team, and coaches on that program. We have tons of respect for them and looking forward to the game.”

This time around, Sitake will stay on the sidelines while his team looks to improve to 3-0 on the season and extend its 11-game home winning streak. BYU hasn’t lost in LaVell Edwards Stadium since Sept. 21, 2019, when Washington steamrolled the Cougars 45-19.

But how do the Cougars put the historic events of the weekend — both getting into the Big 12 and beating Utah for the first time in 12 years — past them to focus on the task at hand?

That process started on Sunday.

Sitake, as well as his coaching staff, emphasizes the importance of taking Sunday to focus on something other than football and maintain a life of balance, defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea said. Whether the team wins or loses, Sitake encourages his players to spend the day with their families.

“We still come in to BYU and on campus to get treatment for our bumps and bruises from the game,” Fauatea said. “So it’s kind of like a work day, but it’s not. We’re coming in and taking care of our bodies and making sure that it’s right for the next week. We also get to take a day off and worship and get away from football for a little bit and just be with our families.”

Then, the prep starts Monday.

The Cougars are looking to keep up the momentum built from the first two games. Just like most schedules of recent years, save for the 2020 pandemic schedule, BYU is opening up with consecutive Power Five programs.

This time around, BYU’s first three opponents on the schedule belong to the Pac-12. After Arizona State, the Cougars have three Group of Five opponents on deck.

In total, BYU is scheduled to play seven P5 teams this season — five of which are in the Pac-12.

Because conferences don’t usually start league play until later in the season, most P5 teams don’t play a front-loaded schedule as BYU has become accustomed to.

“Being able to play that caliber of team early is great for us,” offensive lineman James Empey said. “We get a ton of learning, a ton of great competition, chances to improve and grow, and, in moments like this, check out the film and see what you can do better to prepare for the next one. Looking forward, we’re excited for this challenge.”

Heading into a week of preparation, the Cougars don’t have an “us against the world” mentality. Instead, they will continue to measure up against no one other than themselves as BYU hopes to add to the win column.

“One of the biggest things that drove us last week was that we didn’t play our best football yet,” running back Lopini Katoa said. “Against Arizona, we weren’t satisfied with how we played. That same mindset, we’ll take with us this week — we haven’t played our best football still. Even though we’re 2-0, we still haven’t played our best football yet. So that’s really what our goal is, just competing with ourselves.”

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