Coming into its game on Saturday at Oregon, BYU was in an enviable spot, looking for another righteous buzz, dropping in on a tasty wave after a big win, such a large roller that the Cougars were being talked about with all kinds of new respect, mentioned even as a fresh candidate to ride that barrel straight into the College Football Playoff.
And then, that’s when, as the surfer’s lingo goes, the swell, the bomb, the bombora, the boomer, the kahuna, the comber, rose up overhead and crashed on top of them, leaving them gasping for air in all the wash.
BYU’s cowabunga got cowabunga’ed, dude.
It was an absolute wipeout, a waste of a huge win over Baylor a week ago, and all the goodies that arrived with it. There was a high ranking. There was newfound promise for the Cougars’ readiness upon entering the Big 12. There was a TV rating that saw 2.4 million viewers tune in for that late game. There was a chance for one more dig at the Pac-12 by BYU, having won five straight games against that league in the run-up. And there was a shot at more competitive fodder for the Big 12 against its rival conference out west in the aftermath.
Um … much of all that dunked by the Cougars’ sorry ineptitude here.
“I didn’t have this team ready,” Kalani Sitake said afterward. “That’s on me.”
He added: “We dug ourselves in too much of a hole to climb out of.”
“We let things get out of hand,” said Jaren Hall.
So dominant was the Ducks’ 41-20 victory at Autzen Stadium, it brought into question not just the level of BYU’s talent, but also the level of the conquered Bears. Guilt by association.
Sitake preferred to take issue with his team’s preparation and execution, not its talent. He can do something about the former, not the latter.
BYU completed a nice pass to start the game and — more surf terms, sorry, we’ll stop now — went over the falls and got rag-dolled from there.
How bad was it?
The game was over by halftime (24-7), perhaps before that.
Oregon scored on its opening drive, and kept scoring on every first-half move down the field, making the Cougars’ defense look not just overmatched, but confused and unprepared. The Ducks used an assortment of plays, opening the middle and sealing the edges, in their ground game, creating gaping holes, with BYU’s resistance missing tackles, missing assignments, and badly over-running plays.
The whole of it had to be embarrassing for everyone involved, all those in blue. That 17-point deficit at the break rose to 38-7 early in the third quarter. It got to the sad point over that stretch where Oregon starting quarterback Bo Nix went to the bench in pity. When the Cougars mounted a timid comeback, scoring on a Hall pass and a Chris Brooks run, Nix came back, leading to a final Ducks touchdown.
When the embattled Nix is made by your defense to look like Patrick Mahomes, you know you’ve got a problem.
One more thing: Even if the Ducks are better than the Cougars, which they unquestionably are, they are not this much better. If that’s not true, BYU’s chances for anything highfalutin this season are dead, mostly dead.
If the Cougars win out, a doubtful proposition based on Saturday’s defensive shortcomings, they would have some hope for a NY6 bowl, but …
All that does is throw down the welcome mat to big-time football for the Cougars, where depth is huge because many of the games, if not the majority of them, are fast and physical, often causing harm. Quality opponents, like the Bears last week and the Ducks now, make strength in numbers a necessity.
As things were, BYU was slower and softer and significantly undermanned against the Ducks, its personnel simply could not keep up with Oregon’s athletes. How did it keep up with Baylor’s? It’s a question worth wondering about. Maybe Sitake is right — execute with more precision, more discipline.
As the deficit mounted through the initial two quarters — 7-0, 10-0, 10-7, 17-7, 24-7, the Cougars’ spirits sagged lower and deeper. An opportunity to cut into that 17-7 score short-circuited when Jake Oldroyd missed a pitching wedge to the green, wide right. Two missed field goals last week have now turned missing into a habit.
In this game, it didn’t matter, though.
Real concerns for BYU centered and center on two major weaknesses, and all the elements that contribute to them: An inability to run the ball and an inability to stop the run.
Against Oregon, the Cougars gained 61 rushing yards and they gave up 212. For the second straight week, they averaged less than three yards per carry, 2.5 if you want to be tragically exact about it. The Ducks got nearly five yards a pop, and they went for three scores on the ground.
Much of that most obviously had and has to do with troubled line play. BYU’s veteran offensive line was supposed to be, separate from Hall at QB, the most polished part of the team’s talent. That’s become a joke, considering that front enabled just 83 yards on the ground last week before this week’s failure. And the defense was also a mess.
Nobody in the trenches stood up to stand out.
“We couldn’t get off the field,” said Sitake. “Couldn’t stop the run. Couldn’t settle in.”
And he said: “Everything has to be evaluated.”
If those consequential struggles continue, with a largely challenging upcoming schedule, alongside BYU’s troubled kicking game, hope for something extraordinary to occur in 2022 will fade quickly. Maybe immediate games against Wyoming and Utah State will help.
But as high as those BYU hopes were after the Baylor win, they might be dragging for a period now. If the negatives aren’t as extreme and hyperbolic as the positives were, maybe the Cougars will be OK, even if they are not particularly great. Losses happen. Oregon can attest to that after its face-plant against Georgia.
In spite of those negatives, Hall had a decent showing. This kid has a real shot at finishing his BYU career with acclaim and heading into the NFL. Without a run game and without his two top receivers, the quarterback threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns, completing 29 of 41 passes, no picks.
This isn’t breaking news, but he’s pretty doggone good.
As for all the talk that it wouldn’t be, BYU looked rattled by the environment at Autzen, by the counter force from which the Cougars benefitted so greatly against Baylor — a home crowd, a loud house, an intimidating scene. They can’t count on that to help them win, and don’t they know it now. It all worked against them here, leading to what they certainly hope will turn out to be an aberration, a temporary interruption, for better things to come.
“We’ll find out a lot about our team in the next week,” Sitake said.
And all the weeks thereafter.