BYU head coach Kalani Sitake held his weekly press conference on Monday morning to recap his team’s third straight loss, 35-32 at the hands of the West Virginia Mountaineers. He said he was glad his offense broke out in the loss but that he now wants to see a complete team effort in their game against the Toledo Rockets this Friday.
Sitake was upbeat about his team’s performance against the Mountaineers but also said there is always room to improve.
“There’s still a lot of room to improve,” Sitake said. “I saw some really good positives, and some negatives we need to fix. That’s coach’s talk, but if we can put it all together and have a clean game, then we’ll be successful.”
Coach Sitake has stated each week since that his team needs to play their best in the coming game. Monday was no different. He added that the impatience felt by fans is exceeded by those inside the program.
“We need to have our best game this weekend. It needs to happen,” reiterated Sitake. “I know a lot of people are impatient; trust me, we are more impatient as a coaching staff and players. It’s always tough losing close games. You evaluate everything, go through it with a fine tooth comb, and look for ways to get wins.
“The most improvement we need to make on offense is scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. That’s going to be the key for us.”
With regards to the Cougars’ upcoming game against Toledo, Sitake said that he expects a stout opponent but that he is glad that his team will be in the friendly confines of LaVell Edwards Stadium once again.
“[They are a] well-coached team,” explained Sitake. “I think there is a lot of carry over with a head coach who was the offensive coordinator before. They play hard, and they are really efficient offensively. They do great defensively. It’s a tough opponent, and we respect what they do as a team. I’m glad we are home for this game; it will be a huge advantage for us.”
When asked if facing their second straight opponent coming off a bye week is an advantage for the opposition, Sitake said it’s not that big of a deal.
“They have more rest time. But for us, it’s a disadvantage only because there is one less game to prepare for,” Sitake explained. “They do some things they’ve carried over for 6-7 years, and there is a lot to work with. They have different talent than the graduating class last year. But they are coached really well, and we are expecting their best shot. They’ve never had a close game, blew out their three previous opponents, so we’re expecting a team that is used to having success offensively and defensively. We aren’t overlooking anybody, and we want to respect everybody and prepare for it.”
BYU faced four “Power Five” programs to begin the season. Facing their first “Group of Five” opponent this Friday, Sitake said the distinction means nothing to him and his team.
“[We] don’t even worry about that. Everybody is a P5 to us,” Sitake said. “We talk about respecting our opponents, and they deserve our respect because they are a great team. The things they have done in the past and this year, I think that’s the best way to do it. We are focused on what we do as a team, but they have every bit of respect that we’ve given to our opponents, especially our first four.”
BYU struggled to get a consistent pass rush against the Mountaineers Saturday and when asked, Sitake said that it’s something his team needs to improve on.
“(West Virginia QB Skyler Howard) was really elusive, and did some good things with his feet,” Sitake said. “A lot of our technique and fundamentals have to come into play, especially with the defensive line and hits on the quarterback. It doesn’t always have to register as a sack. But if we can disrupt [the quarterback’s] timing, get in his face and make him move a little bit, it becomes less of a skeleton drill. We need to find ways to let him know we are there, and maybe alter the pass.”
One player who the Cougars hope could help with that pass rush is senior defensive tackle Travis Tuiloma. Tuiloma saw his first action against West Virginia in a limited fashion but Sitake said his play was mixed bag.
“It’s always a game-time deal with Travis, and he felt comfortable getting in the game,” Sitake explained. “But we’ll see how he goes this week. There is one less day for him to recover. But it was nice to have him out on the field, and hopefully he can increase his reps.
“He looked good, but he’s still rusty. It was his first live reps [in] a long time. He didn’t do anything in camp and the earlier games. There’s a little bit of rust, but you can see there is a lot of explosive power in his movement. It will be nice to get him as soon as we can. Knowing [it’s] is a long season, and looking at his future as well, we’re going to do it the right way and be smart.”
BYU’s wide receiving corps has been much-maligned for their failings in being unable to get off of press coverage and make tough catches when needed. Sitake said that the group took the criticisms to heart and will continue to strive to silence their doubters.
“I think all the talk about going against man-coverage was difficult for them to take,” explained Sitake. “They are guys who have a lot of pride, and their coach (Ben Cahoon) wants to make sure they do well. I was really impressed with the receivers getting separation. I also liked how they blocked downfield. They had a little chip on their shoulder, and that is going to change throughout the whole year until they can change some people’s thoughts.”
When asked about the firings of some of his fellow coaches over the weekend (Les Miles, Brian VanGorder, Ron Turner), Sitake took the opportunity to laud his team rather than opine about his fired comrades.
“It’s a tough business. But I’m not worried about them,” said Sitake. “If anything, being 1-3 right now has brought our team closer. This is one of the closest teams I’ve been a part of. Nothing is going to divide this group. We lost some close ones, and we have the power to make a change. We decide how we are going to play this weekend, and our guys are preparing hard to make sure we play our best game.”