Kalani Sitake thought BYU would be ‘further along’ at this point. Can the Cougars put it all together vs. Utah State?

The head coach says his team hasn’t played well enough, despite a 3-1 start.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake takes the field before football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Baylor Bearsat LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

Something has felt a little off with the BYU Cougars.

Head coach Kalani Sitake started the week by saying as much. Defensive end Tyler Batty acknowledged it, but couldn’t put his finger on why. And cornerback Jakob Robinson tried to offer solutions as to how to fix it.

Through a third of the season, BYU owns a respectable 3-1 record — but it hasn’t looked exactly like the Cougars thought it would.

“The surprise for me is that we are not playing consistent football,” Sitake said. “Not playing at our best. I guess I had this expectation that we would be a lot further along with the amount of veterans we had on this team.

“You have to give credit to the teams we’re playing, so there is a mixture of both,” he continued. “But I feel like we can still be a lot better as a team. That is my job. I am not criticizing anybody else other than myself.”

Sitting at No. 19 in the country, there aren’t glaring issues on paper for the Cougars. But the on-field reality hasn’t fully aligned with lofty preseason expectations.

And after playing Utah State this Thursday, another tough stretch looms on the horizon. Notre Dame and Arkansas come next, a stretch when BYU will need to be at its best.

“I think we all expected us to have a little bit of a better rhythm, [at least] defensively,” Batty said. “Just have things clicking a little bit better. Honestly, it is a really hard question to answer. If we knew all the answers, we would be rolling.”

There have been moments when things have clicked for the Cougars. Outside of quarterback Jaren Hall, nearly every position group has gone through some perplexing stretch of poor performance.

On the defensive side, the front seven had one of its best performances in years against Baylor. It stopped the run and had its best tackling game since 2015, according to Pro Football Focus. But the next week it couldn’t get off the field as Oregon ran all over the defense for 212 yards and 41 points.

Turn to the running backs, and it is the same story over different weeks. The opening act of the season, BYU ran the ball for over 300 yards. Since then, the running game has been a roller coaster that left starting running back Chris Brooks mostly sidelined for his performance by Week 4.

There have also been uncharacteristic penalties: the Cougars recorded 11 penalties for 109 yards last week.

“You can never really put your finger on one thing,” wide receiver Brayden Cosper said of these early season issues.

Part of the problem, of course, can be attributed to injuries; the Cougars’ personnel has been a revolving door.

At first glance on Monday morning, there were upward of 10 starters that had some injury concern. Wide receivers Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua top the list. Neither of the top two receivers has completed a full game, and Romeny hasn’t played a snap this year.

BYU expects to have Max Tooley, Gabe Summers, Earl Tuioti-Mariner and Kingsley Suamataia back this week. The team is still evaluating the status of Nacua and safety Malik Moore. Sitake said he is hopeful that Romney will make his season debut on Thursday.

“I just want our team to play better,” Sitake said. “I want to see them play a good football game and play at our best. I don’t think we have seen that yet. I don’t think it has been clean enough for all 60 minutes.”

Robinson suggested BYU came out flat the last two weeks as a reason why the team’s growth has been stunted. But he then added that whatever the issue is, it needs to come together this Thursday.

“I am looking forward to getting that done this Thursday,” Sitake said. “That will be the point of emphasis this week.”