For the second time this season, the BYU Cougars suffered a disheartening loss in the final minutes of a game.
The score was 35-32 — the Cougars trailed the West Virginia Mountaineers with less than three minutes left in regulation. The Mountaineers, at the BYU four-yard line, were primed to score and put the contest out of reach. However, West Virginia fumbled and BYU recovered it at its own 6.
Unlike the three previous outings for the Cougars, their offense finally came alive against the Mountaineers. BYU started to move down the field with ease in those final minutes. Quarterback Taysom Hill completed a 29-yard pass to Nick Kurtz to kick-start the drive.
BYU drove all the way to the West Virginia 28 before calling a timeout with 1:09 on the game clock. The Cougars obviously had time to steal a win from the Mountaineers or play conservative and kick a field goal to send the game into overtime.
However, neither happened.
Out of the timeout, Hill took the snap and aimed his throw toward a receiver in the end zone, to only see it get picked off by West Virginia defensive back Maurice Fleming.
Ball game. BYU lost 35-32.
“I just am really disappointed that we’re one and three because we had three close losses,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake after the loss. “I thought that if we would have played a lot more sound as a team, we would be in a different situation, but it’s easy to sit there and say ‘I wish and ‘I wish we would’ve done things differently.”
The other disheartening loss the Cougars have suffered this year was against Utah, when they attempted to score a game-winning two-point conversion but failed in a 20-19 defeat. The other close loss was to UCLA by the score of 17-14. The game was competitive, but UCLA controlled most of the proceedings.
What must the Cougars do to stop disappointing their fans this season and possibly turn around this crushing start to the year?
BYU must become a more complete, consistent team.
In the Cougars’ first two losses, their defense reigned supreme over their offense. Against Utah, the BYU defense allowed only 363 yards. When the Cougars took on the Bruins, the defense allowed only 357 yards. While the defense did its part in those two games, the offense didn’t.
The BYU offense put up only 328 yards against Utah and 273 yards against UCLA. The script flipped when the Cougars took on the Mountaineers.
Hill completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 241 yards, two touchdowns and three crucial interceptions. While the passing game was solid, the BYU run offense stampeded the West Virginia defense for 280 yards and two touchdowns. That gave the Cougars 521 yards of total offense.
— SCOTT WARNER (@ScottWarner18) September 24, 2016
If the BYU defense had played WVU as it did against Utah and UCLA, the Cougars would have beaten West Virginia. Instead, BYU’s defense allowed 481 yards and forced only two turnovers while its offense gave four gifts to the Mountaineers.
Getting two sides of a team — offense and defense — to play well on the same day, at the same time, is the mark of an accomplished, upper-tier team. BYU has found that two-part formula elusive in 2016.
“We have been unlucky, and I expect our breaks will come, hopefully soon,” Hill said.
Looking at the remaining games on the Cougars’ schedule, BYU players and fans should feel the way Hill feels.
Out of the remaining eight games, four are against high-quality opponents. BYU has to travel to Michigan State, Boise State and Cincinnati while Mississippi State visits Provo. The Cougars’ next game is against the Toledo Rockets, which are no strangers to upset victories — they defeated Arkansas on the road last year.
The 1-3 but battle tested BYU Cougars face an unchallenged MAC power on a Friday night. BYU has faced 2 tempo teams in AZ & WV already.
— Jarom Jordan (@jaromjordan) September 25, 2016
If the Cougars want to reverse their misfortunes, they will need the offense to score touchdowns and not field goals in the red zone. They’ll need better ball security. They’ll need their defense to hold opponents under 30 points.
It’s not just one thing — that’s the inconvenient truth about this team at the end of September. If the Cougars and their first-year head coach can’t create numerous fixes in multiple aspects of competition, BYU will be in for a long season.