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BYU will face first ‘real adversity’ with ‘love and learning’

The Cougars are looking to bounce back in time to take on future Big 12 opponent Baylor.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake disputes a call as No. 10 Brigham Young University hosts Boise State at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Oct. 9, 2021.

Just moments after getting handed their first loss of the season against Boise State on Saturday, instead of just heading to the locker room with their heads down, BYU players made their way to the edge of the stands to thank fans and hug loved ones.

It’s part of the culture coach Kalani Sitake has created at BYU. And it’s part of why the Cougars have had so much success, particularly over the last couple of years.

“Coach Sitake has taught us that tough guys don’t leave after a loss all pouty, mad and sluggish, not hugging their family,” linebacker Ben Bywater said after the game. “Tough guys leave after a loss and hug their families. We have to get over it and move on to next week.”

So, after having suffered its first loss of the season, how does No. 19 BYU start to move on, especially as it starts the second half of the 2021 season?

The Cougars just came off, not just the first loss, but their first bad performance. BYU was a victim of turnovers, miscues and more as it fell to Boise State on Saturday.

But now the Cougars have Baylor at the end of the week to prepare for.

“This is really a tough one to swallow because we just didn’t play well as a team,” offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said during Monday’s Coordinators Corner show. “We all feel like we should have won. You’ve just got to learn from it and move on. We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us this week, so we can’t dwell on it.”

In the locker room, the team has two words that players and staff use to describe the culture: love and learning. And that’s how the Cougars hope to move on from Saturday’s loss.

Wide receiver Gunner Romney explained that the team will continue to love their brothers, and not point fingers and place blame on anyone, and learn from their mistakes.

That’s an approach those close to the program believe is more than just talk.

Amy Rex has been familiar with BYU Football for a while. Her husband was a tight end with the Cougars in the late ′80s and early ′90s, her son Isaac is currently a BYU tight end, and her son Preston, who is currently serving a church mission, has signed to play at BYU as well.

So, when players headed to the stands, Amy Rex was moved by how her son and his teammates put their long faces aside to thank their families for being there.

“Kalani really exemplifies that [mentality of] ‘we’re not perfect, we make mistakes, but it’s all about how we get past this and how we’re going to move forward together as a team,’” Rex said. “He doesn’t pretend it didn’t happen ... but it’s all about how we get past this and how we’re going to move together as a team.”

Midway through the 2021 season, BYU is 5-1 — a success by any means. But there is still room for improvement.

BYU will use the latest game as a way to help it make the best of the remainder of the season.

“I think if we use this game as sort of a wake-up call, and kind of bring everything back into perspective and start doing what we know we can do, we can finish out a great season,” Romney said. “The opposite of that, if we let this loss get to us and we let it turn the season — that’s not what we want to happen. So I think we can use this as a positive and go forward, but I think we’re in a good position right now.”

As the Cougars head into the back end of the season, they are back to facing three consecutive Power Five programs. This time, two of those matchups will take place on the road, with BYU taking its first flight to Texas to play Baylor this weekend — its first flight since the season opener against Arizona in Las Vegas.

“I’m happy where we’re at right now,” offensive lineman James Empey said. “I think we’re in a good spot; I think we have a chance to bounce back and do what we do. And I’m excited for the guys to get back to work this weekend and attack this week because you’re only promised the next one.”

The Cougars have a tall order for this week, facing not just a P5 team, but a future Big 12 opponent. But how BYU is able to respond to last weekend’s loss can be used as an indication of how the Cougars will continue the remainder of the season.

“This is the first time all year we have some real adversity and we get an opportunity to work through some adversity as a team,” Roderick said.

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