BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and his staff pointed to a lot of problems.
Lack of discipline. Mistakes. Assignment errors. All would be accurate in assessing a 41-20 beatdown to Oregon on Saturday.
BYU’s associate head coach Ed Lamb put it this way, as he tried to close the chapter on last weekend’s defeat:
“I thought the environment, the situation, was too big for us,” Lamb said this week on BYU’s Coordinators’ Corner show. “As coaches, we have a part in that too. We did not prepare the team for that moment. And by the moment I mean everything Oregon does represent and has represented, and playing at Autzen. There’s a lot there and there is a lot to being in the top 12 in the country this early in the season.”
It was a blunt assessment of what happened on Saturday. A loss is one thing, looking unsuited for the moment is another — and the latter would have implications for the Cougars’ immediate and long-term future.
“When I talk about the whole context of the challenges last week — of being highly rated, of coming off a national caliber victory, and then going back-to-back to an opponent’s home, a great storied opponent — we don’t have a lot of that experience,” Lamb continued. “...That was the failure.”
Coming into the game, BYU had just knocked off No. 9 Baylor the week before. That instantly catapulted the program into the national discussion, reaching into the top 15 in the country for the third straight season.
Then it had to go on the road and play Oregon, a perennial Pac-12 contender. It was a nationally televised game. The environment, for a top-25 game, was what you would expect for one of the best venues in the country.
And BYU, nearly from the beginning, looked out of place — maybe not out-skilled, but out of sorts.
On the first offensive drive of the game, BYU turned it over on downs near midfield. Oregon marched right down the field to score a touchdown. It was off to the races from there.
“We just let things get out of hand offensively from there,” quarterback Jaren Hall said.
Here is the issue with the moment being too big for BYU’s immediate future: the Cougars’ schedule boasts another difficult stretch of back-to-back games against traditional powers.
In a mere three weeks, BYU will be in Las Vegas facing Notre Dame. After that, it has to turn around and play a top-10 Arkansas team.
How will the team react then? Because with one loss on the ledger, there is only a small path to 10 wins and staying nationally ranked.
Preparing for the moment also means something for the Cougars in the long term; you could argue this stretch was a taste of the Big 12 life that awaits BYU. A schedule in the Power Five, particularly in a competitive Big 12 Conference, will routinely require the Cougars to knock off big opponents one week and turn around highly ranked opponents the next.
Sitake was more hesitant to say the context of the game had anything to do with the loss. He said it wasn’t an excuse that BYU had just played Baylor and spent the first three weeks of the season crisscrossing the country.
“I’m not looking for excuses, we can play better,” Sitake said. “It is my job to get our guys to play better. We lacked discipline in a lot of ways. We missed quite a bit of the fundamentals that I like to brag about that we are good at. It just seems very uncharacteristic of our team.”
But it was undoubtedly an opportunity missed to show BYU was ready for the biggest stage, consistently.
“I see it as a missed opportunity. I wish we played better,” Sitake said. “But it is important for us to learn and improve.”
Fortunately for the Cougars, there will be more chances in the future.
But this time, they fell flat.