BYU football: Kalani Sitake takes blame for kickoff coverage woes

BYU football coach Kalani Sitake didn’t have much to criticize, at least on offense and defense, after the No. 25 and rising Cougars defeated South Florida 51-20 on Saturday for night at Raymond James Stadium.

The defense gave up a 50-yard pass on third-and-6 in the second quarter that led to a Bulls TD and the offense turned the ball over once, which is too much in Sitake’s eyes. So that was enough to catch the attention of the trainers.

The performance of the kick-off coverage team? That is a completely different story.

“We thought we could hang (kickoffs). For the first part (of the match) we were doing quite well, getting the ball inside 25, and…. I’m going to take the loss on that. I will take the blame for that.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake

Suffice it to say, the topic will be taken up on Monday when the Cougars get together to watch a video of the impressive but rare victory in Florida before turning their attention to the visit of No. 10 Baylor on Saturday.

For those who didn’t bother to watch the second half after the Cougars took a 38-7 halftime lead, South Florida’s Jimmy Horn Jr. took the second half kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. .

Then, after Chris Brooks’ 52-yard touchdown run gave the Cougars a 47-14 lead, Jake Oldroyd’s kickoff was fielded by Brian Battie at the 4-yard line and the Sarasota sophomore , Fla., returned the kick 38 yards. A late hit by BYU’s George Udo added 15 yards, and the Bulls scored seven plays later, overcoming a holding penalty.

“They had a great return team and we tried to prove it probably too many times, and I think they were No. 1 in the country last year and they’re probably No. 1 right now after we gave up,” Sitake said. “That is in the coaches. We have to find a way to improve our starting team.”

South Florida now ranks 12th in kickoff return average (29.88 yards), while the Cougars rank 119th. Of course, all that BYU scoring meant the Bulls had plenty of chances, eight in total. .

Not kicking the ball into the end zone is actually a strategy that Sitake and BYU special teams coach Ed Lamb have employed many times in recent years, utilizing Oldroyd’s ability to kick high, directional kickoffs. . Sitake said they may have to rethink that strategy.

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“Yeah, we’ll try,” he said when asked by a reporter why they don’t kick the ball into the end zone, like South Florida did three out of four times.

“We thought we could hang (kick offs),” Sitake said, noting that Oldroyd was just doing what was asked of him. “In the first half we were doing pretty well, getting the ball inside 25, and…. I’ll take the loss of that one. I will take the blame for that.”

Sitake said he might have let his ego get the best of him, also explaining that he wanted to impose the notion on the kickoff coverage team that he believes in them.

“Maybe it’s a mistake on my part,” he said. “…I can also learn from that. I just want the guys to know that I believe in them, and with the game, the way it was (it was worth the teaching moment). … I will improve.”

Oldroyd seemed to lack the usual pop to his leg, as he kicked at sea level. Neither of his successful 37- and 39-yard field goals were hammered through the studs.

Will the star receivers be ready for the Baylor matchup?

Another big topic in postgame interviews was the status of star receivers Gunner Romney and Puka Nacua. Romney, who is battling an undisclosed injury sustained earlier in fall training, did not make the trip to Tampa. Nacua suffered a sprained ankle on the third play of BYU’s third possession and spent the rest of the game in a walking boot on the sidelines.

He asked backup quarterback Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters to piggyback him into the locker room at halftime, and he was on crutches walking off the field when the game ended.

Will they play Baylor?

Sitake said Nacua stayed out for “precautionary” reasons and “could have gone ahead.” No bone damage, the X-rays showed.

“We made the decision to hold him and put him in a boot and try to get him up and running quickly for next week,” Sitake said. He is sore. He asked one of our players to give him a piggyback ride (to the locker room). I think he would have done that even if he wasn’t in pain (as a joke).”

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As for Romney, Sitake said not having him on Saturday “was tough,” but backups like Brayden Cosper, Kody Epps and Chase Roberts did well. When Nacua went down after a pair of touchdown runs, Keanu Hill went WR1 and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass.

“If you ask me, I would say (Romney) came very close (to playing),” Sitake said. But that’s not my specialty, medicine. So we’ll see what happens when we evaluate it tomorrow, and then we’ll have more for you.”

here come the bears

The Cougars have had September 10 marked on their calendars since that 38-24 blowout at the hands of Baylor last October in Waco. Not because they want revenge, that’s not really BYU’s style. It’s more of a yardstick for the Cougars, especially in the trenches, where Baylor dominated last year.

The No. 10 Bears defeated FCS Albany 69-10 on Saturday in Waco, as expected. Blake Shapen, who beat out Gerry Bohanon for the starting job last spring, prompting Bohanon to transfer to South Florida, completed 17 of 20 passes for 214 yards.

The defending Big 12 champions are on a six-game winning streak.

BYU opened as a slight favorite, around a field goal, in the 8:15 pm kickoff at LaVell Edwards Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.

“We were able to grind the clock (in the second half) and finish the game against South Florida,” Sitake said. “We look forward to being in the movie and looking for ways to improve for our first home game next week.”

Particularly in kickoff coverage.

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