Theories abounded in Provo on Monday and Tuesday as to why the BYU defense, which was so stout against South Florida and Baylor, looked completely lost at Autzen Stadium last Saturday in the embarrassing 41-20 loss to the Oregon Ducks.
A bunch of “heart-to-heart talks” took place as well, according to sophomore defensive lineman John Nelson, who said team leaders such as Lorenzo Fauatea and Tyler Batty spoke up in the defensive line room.
“This is a talented team with a lot of pride. We learned a lesson as coaches, as players. We are embarrassed. But it would be a real mistake for anybody to write off the 2022 Cougars.” — BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb
“Because that’s what we needed, and coach Kalani (Sitake), doing what he is doing, being a coach, had to give us a reality check,” said Nelson, from nearby Salem Hills High. “I am sure the other positions (had focused meetings) too. So yeah, you hate to lose like that, but we have to learn from it.”
After giving full credit to Oregon, after the game and during his weekly press briefing on Monday, Sitake said shoddy tackling proved to be the defense’s undoing. Suffice it to say the Cougars have worked on that fundamental a lot this week, with run-oriented Wyoming (3-1) testing No. 19 BYU on Saturday (8:15 pm MDT, ESPN2) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“Making tackles is the key. I would be concerned if we didn’t have guys there to make hits. The scheme is one thing. It is the fundamentals in tackling that cost us a lot,” Sitake said. “…I think Oregon made some plays and broke tackles. We weren’t in the best place to make tackles. We just gotta figure it out. All 11 guys didn’t do good enough to make plays against a very athletic and speedy team from Oregon.”
During his “Coordinators’ Corner” television program Monday, safeties coach and special teams coordinator Ed Lamb presented another theory:
“I thought the environment, the situation, was too big for us. As coaches, we’ve got a part in that, too. We did not prepare the team for that moment,” Lamb said. “And by ‘the moment,’ I mean everything that Oregon does represent, and has represented, and playing at Autzen, there is a lot there. But there is also a lot to being in the top 12 in the country this early in the season, and were we ready for that moment? Clearly we weren’t.”
Starters Batty and fellow defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner missed the game with injuries, but both practiced Tuesday, according to defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki, and should play against the Pokes. Defensive linemen Fauatea and Gabe Summers were “banged up,” Tuiaki said, but played, perhaps a bit too much.
“Hindsight is 20-20. In retrospect, I should have gotten fresh bodies in there earlier because those guys were still beat up from the week before,” Tuiaki said.
Lamb added that fans who have already written off this defense, and the team in general, after one big loss could be sorely mistaken.
“This is a talented team with a lot of pride,” said the assistant head coach. “We learned a lesson as coaches, as players. We are embarrassed. But it would be a real mistake for anybody to write off the 2022 Cougars.”
Nelson, whose cousin Lauren Gustin is the best rebounder on the BYU women’s basketball team, also said the Cougars will recover.
“I got such a bad taste in my mouth from Saturday. I think all 25 guys that are playing defense on a regular basis,” he said. “I know that all of them are mad at what happened. That wasn’t us. We’re so pumped to get back and play this Wyoming team.”
Nelson said the Cougars “missed tackles all over the place” against Oregon, including himself.
“Tackling is such a big part of the game, and the way we can get better is practice,” Nelson said. “In team (scrimmaging) today, we were emphasizing wrapping up and getting all 11 guys to the ball.”
Sitake said a review of the Oregon film showed great effort and physicality, but a breakdown in the basics.
“They just didn’t execute a lot of physical things the right way — getting off blocks and making tackles,” Sitake said. “That’s my fault. I gotta get my guys better, getting off blocks and making tackles.”
Cornerback Kaleb Hayes, arguably BYU’s best tackler in the secondary, left the Oregon game with concussion-like symptoms and is doubtful this week.
“There is a lot to fix,” Tuiaki said when he met the media after practice Tuesday. “… There were times we were in position and just didn’t make plays. We gotta be better there.”
Tuiaki also put the blame on himself, saying some of the schemes he implemented “may be asking a player to do something that was a little bit harder to do, physically. … And they may be put in bad positions by myself. So that’s on me as a coach.”
Cougars on the air
Wyoming (3-1) at No. 19BYU (2-1)
Saturday, 8:15pm MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: KSL News Radio 102.7 FM/1160 AM