Eugene, Ore. • BYU coach Kalani Sitake hoped it would work. With 10 seconds left on the clock, in a game concluded long before, he called timeout with his offense on the Oregon 14-yard line.
Looking up at the score, which read 41-20 Oregon, Sitake wanted to give his offense one last chance at putting a sequence together. Some semblance of effectiveness.
Instead, quarterback Jaren Hall sailed a pass too far to Keanu Hill. Then, BYU followed it up with an equally ineffective pass intended for Kody Epps.
It signified the day.
“Everything has to be evaluated for us,” Sitake said. “We just couldn’t settle in. … We have to find out what the issues were, what the deficiencies were, in every aspect of our game. That’s coaching, players, personnel, whatever it is.”
It looked like a mixture of it all in a game that started poorly and only devolved from there. BYU was overmatched in just about every facet of the game. The final score kept BYU within three scores, but the deficit felt much larger on an afternoon when Oregon gained 439 yards and 23 first downs. At one point, when Oregon still had its starting quarterback in, the Ducks were averaging over eight yards a snap.
It was a far cry from the team that knocked off No. 9 Baylor a week ago and became the darlings of college football. The encore performance, a 41-20 loss on national television, was a flat thud.
“Coming off of two bigs games, we had a lot of momentum going,” Hall said. “Really in that sense, just how we were able to win a gritty game last week, it would have meant a lot for us to come in here and win in this environment. … We are still the same team we were two weeks and a week ago. But we have to learn from today and get better.”
BYU could talk about playing without four potential starters. It could talk about coming off the emotional high of a game just six days ago. But ultimately the issues extended far beyond that.
And those issues varied from drive to drive. Sometimes it was BYU’s inability to stop the run — when Oregon rushed for nearly five yards a carry. Sometimes it was the deep ball — where Oregon averaged 16 yards a completion. Either way, every drive had the same end result: points.
It took until 5:52 left in the third quarter for the Ducks to punt. By the time Oregon quarterback Bo Nix found Terrance Ferguson for a third-quarter touchdown — standing flat-footed absent a BYU rush — Oregon went up 38-7 on a hapless team. The chants of “overrated” reigned down from an Autzen Stadium stirred up into a collective frenzy, happy to topple a top-15 team.
“Tough, tough game,” linebacker Ben Bywater said. “Obviously you have to crush the run game. They came out hot, running it down our throats. No excuse, it is something we have to work on. Next week we will be back to the drawing board.”
Many of the problems that have plagued BYU underneath a 2-0 start reared their head on the road. BYU couldn’t establish the run for the second straight week. Chris Brooks finished with 10 carries for 28 yards. Lopini Katoa showed glimpses of being better, but he too ended with five carries for 12 yards. Overall, the end result was the same as last week: 2.5 yards a carry and 10 drives that were under five minutes.
“It’s a concern for me,” Sitake said flatly.
Of course, some of that may have been skewed by the score. BYU was in obvious passing situations for most of the second half. But that too did not fare much better. Jaren Hall had time to throw, but a receiving corps made up of three younger players couldn’t seem to get open against Oregon’s speed.
BYU’s top two receivers, Puka Nacua and Gunner Romney, again did not play due to injuries. And for the first time all season, it looked like the bottom fell out a group that showed flashes of what the future could be, but ultimately was not near the level of Oregon.
Hall finished 29 for 41 with 305 yards and two touchdowns. Chase Roberts led the team in receiving with 60 yards.
“We didn’t want to put those guys at risk,” Sitake said of why Nacua and Romney didn’t play. “... But we need some guys back.”
There were also things that popped up that BYU had never dealt with before. The Cougars missed tackles. BYU had missed just two tackles the entire season up until this point. In the first quarter alone, the defense racked up nearly half a dozen misses.
It accentuated Oregon’s 212 rushing yards on 44 carries. A Ducks team that averaged 39 passes a week had to attempt only 20 this week, because of how effective the running game was. From the jump, when Oregon running back Mar’Keise Irving scampered for 36 yards on the third offensive play of the game, BYU looked outclassed in its run defense. It set up Oregon to strike first and never relent the lead.
“They had great talent,” Sitake said. “We had talent as well, but it does no good if it makes mistakes. We made mistakes but it is also coaching. Overall we did not do a good enough job winning that game.”
Ultimately the game was a letdown. BYU had worked itself up to No. 12 in the country. It had knocked off its toughest home opponent and had the national media discussing the possibility of a meaningful postseason.
But as quickly as it came, it went. A thumping to Oregon on the road. And guessing at what the future holds.