Disconsolate BYU turns attention to also-struggling East Carolina
After suffering another humbling, lopsided loss and shaking hands with Mississippi State players Saturday afternoon in the heat and humidity at Davis Wade Stadium, dozens of BYU’s guys ambled off to the locker room, heads hung low.
However, a member of the football staff summoned them back out, asking the entire team to assemble in the southeast corner of the field where a small band of BYU fans who sat through the 35-10 rout waited for an acknowledgment of some kind.
So the walk of shame was repeated. Apologies were probably in order, too.
The recurring nightmare that is BYU’s 2017 football season had played out again, although nobody who has watched this team play was even remotely surprised at what took place Saturday as the Cougars dropped to 1-6 for the first time in nearly 50 years. Mississippi State barreled past their declining defense for 546 yards and held their still impotent offense to 176.
“Everybody is pretty down in there right now,” fullback Brayden El-Bakri said, nodding toward the locker room. “It sucks to lose. It sucks to be in this situation.”
BYU’s schedule, one of the 25 most difficult in the country to this point, weakens considerably now, beginning Saturday against also 1-6 East Carolina in Greenville, N.C.
The American Athletic Conference’s Pirates (1-6, 1-3) were blasted 63-21 by No. 22 Central Florida in Orlando Saturday night and have lost three straight and 10 of their last 11 dating back to least season.
But nothing is a gimme anymore for BYU, which has struggled offensively all season but now can’t rely on its defense. That unit was supposed to be a strength, but has been almost as disappointing as the offense the past few games.
Coach Kalani Sitake sort of came to terms with that fact, but still lamented the offensive play discrepancy, which he said, “makes it tough to play defense when you are out there quite a bit.” MSU ran 84 plays, BYU 46.
“I may be thinking of a couple of plays overshadowing everything, but the stats don’t lie,” Sitake said. “They ran the ball 53 times for  yards, and so you are getting gashed when that happens. … But it wasn’t lack of effort. We have to come up with some different schemes to help stop the run, and find creative ways to get out of drives, because what we are doing is not working. … Us coaches, we have to get it done.”
Cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku, who had two interceptions, said practices have been more intense and more physical, and players are being accountable to each other, but not sticking to their assignments in games. Several times, defenders were in the right spots and just couldn’t make tackles.
“We just need to focus in,” Ghanwoloku said. “I think everyone is thinking too much, trying to do other people’s jobs. … Just do your job. That’s how you make plays.”
Said Sitake, referencing MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald’s 103 rushing yards: “When you know what is coming and you can’t stop it, that’s really discouraging.”
Gone is the Cougars’ last chance to beat a Power Five opponent, something they’ve done at least once a year for 11 straight years, unless they somehow run off six straight wins to get to a bowl game and then face a power conference opponent there. The odds are stacked against BYU for that reality, however.
ESPN’s Football Power Index gives BYU a 3.4 percent chance of winning out. Lack of depth is also an issue as injuries — which every team in college football suffers — take their toll. Ten projected starters have missed at least one game due to injury, and 22 in the two-deep.
The Cougars’ best player, linebacker Fred Warner, suffered a shoulder stinger vs. MSU but returned; fellow linebacker Butch Pau’u is playing with a broken hand. Running back Trey Dye (boot on left foot) and linebacker Chaz Ah You (right thigh wrapped) left the game with injuries.
“Right now, our backs are against the wall,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum, who was relieved late by freshman Joe Critchlow for the second-straight game. “We need to go on a run right now, and we are up to the challenge. We have to give it everything, give it our absolute all — all our heart, all our effort. We have to come back on Monday and go hard because we know we have a fight ahead of us. There is no other option other than getting back to work and to keep fighting.”