BYU football: BYU must start faster, play cleaner vs. Notre Dame

All the uniform talk/reveal hype fits somewhere in the picture of the BYU-Notre Dame Shamrock Series football game in Allegiant Stadium on Saturday.

But if the Cougars don’t start quickly, play fundamentally sound football, and show better discipline than they’ve shown since beating Baylor, they could ride unicorns and wear Batman costumes in Vegas because it wouldn’t matter.

“The last couple of weeks it’s been unacceptable as a defense to do what we’ve been doing. So it’s important for the leaders and everyone really to step up and make sure we get a fast start.” — BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar

Somehow, some way, head coach Kalani Sitake must find a way to get the No. 16 Cougars to be the best version of themselves.

Against Oregon, Wyoming and Utah State we saw glimpses here and there and luckily the team is 4-1 after overcoming some daunting challenges — getting everyone’s best shot.

But give up third-down conversions on penalties, yield the start of an opponent’s possession at midfield on penalties, extend opposing drives on personal fouls, things like throwing a shoe or pushing an opponent’s face in the turf against the Fighting Irish? Well, it’s lights out.

Sitake must have his team play a clean game, a contest similar to the Baylor game. If his team gets off to a slow start like it did against Oregon, Wyoming and USU — the Golden Domers will put the hammer down and call it smashed Cougar Tail.

In his “love and learning” culture, Sitake doesn’t coach with fear, intimidation or punish players for mistakes. He addresses mess-ups, tries to get it corrected, and lets teammates hold that player accountable. He wants his players to play loose but smart.

“I think there’s a fine line, a balance between all of it and there’s a responsibility that I have as a coach to get these guys to play at their best,” Sitake told reporters at his media session Monday.

“That means playing loose, and great if it means playing a little bit more focused. That’s what I need to have a good feeling for (with) the team and we have some things that we’re gonna do. Definitely this week’s a little bit different,” he said. “I want to give credit to Utah State for being able to do some things last week against us.”

That included running basically a new zone run offense. USU coach Blake Anderson said he wanted his players to play hard, “get in faces” and in the best game they’d played all year last week against the Cougars last Thursday, it showed. The Aggies’ offense ran a whopping 50 plays in the first half.

BYU players — especially on defense didn’t react well. The fixes didn’t come until halftime. But offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said some of it was weird. Veteran center Connor Pay has two false starts reacting to USU defenders mimicking the snap count of Jaren Hall — not exactly kosher.

Sitake said crediting his foe did not excuse his guys. Mistakes that showed up on the film session were all correctable.

“You want to make sure that you address the things that need to be addressed, but that you don’t want to just make stuff up either. So I think for what we see and what we can accomplish this week and things that we can get done, I think we’re in a really good spot.

“I feel good about our message to our team this week and things I’m gonna say to the team.”

Linebacker Payton Wilgar said BYU’s slow starts and mistakes by the defense is clearly a stink bomb that cannot be tolerated in Las Vegas against the Irish. Slow start? Can’t do it.

“The last couple of weeks it’s been unacceptable as a defense to do what we’ve been doing,” said Wilgar. “So it’s important for the leaders and everyone really to step up and make sure we get a fast start. From here on out, no matter who the opponent is or what not, we’ll definitely need to be on our A game for Notre Dame.

“They’re a great football team and there’s no room for coming out soft. So we’ll definitely need to step up as leaders and get everyone fired up from playing one until the game is over.”

In the preseason, anonymous coaches were asked what they thought about BYU. One said BYU plays to the level of its competition.

That may be a true theme.

Speaking on BYUtv, senior receiver Gunner Romney agreed with that assessment.

“I do think there is a tendency to get hyped up for big games. It should be that way but that may be a reason for the slow starts,” said Romney.

If a team can’t get up for a brand like Notre Dame in an NFL venue like Allegiant Stadium, then what electrical product could Sitake ever deploy to jumpstart his squad?

One does not exist.

“This is why we as players come to BYU, is for a chance to play in big games like this,” said Wilgar.

Cougars on the air

BYU (4-1) vs. Notre Dame (2-2)

Saturday, 5:30 pm MDT

Allegiant Stadium

Las Vegas, Nevada


Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM

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