BYU fell short to the UCLA Bruins 17-14 in the home opener of the Kalani Sitake era. The Cougars were led by Butch Pau’u who had 19 tackles on defense.
PROVO, Utah – Three consecutive weeks, BYU’s defense has done their job. By holding opponents under 20 points in all three games to start the season, they have put the team in position to win by forcing turnovers, getting opposing offenses off the field, and making timely plays.
But, for the second week in a row, outstanding defensive play hasn’t been enough for the Cougars to overcome a surprisingly anemic offense.
“[The Defense] was good enough to hold them to 17 points, it should have been good enough to win,” said BYU Head Coach Kalani Sitake.
Sitake mentioned that he expects to see improvement on the offensive side of the ball this week and won’t use lack of understanding the offense as an excuse, any longer.
“Saying that we’re getting used to a new system, now it’s time that we need to be way better,” said Kalani Sitake
Entering the 2016 season, many expected BYU’s offense to have success with returning starters at key positions in Taysom Hill at quarterback and Jamaal Williams at running back, as well as four starters from the offensive line but they have struggled to produce offensively.
On Saturday, the Cougars were held to just 79 yards of offense on 38 plays and were shut out in the first half. Of those 79 yards, 39 came from a pass to Jamaal Williams early in the game. The other 37 plays resulted in just 40 yards of production.
“We came up short. Our defense played a great football game, they played well enough for us to win. We need to put more points on the board offensively,” said Taysom Hill. “We’ll start tomorrow by breaking down the film and making the corrections necessary to improve.”
Right tackle Ului Lapuaho wasn’t available for Saturday’s game as he was held out due to injury and missing that experience on the offensive line hurt BYU’s production. UCLA entered Saturday’s contest with just one sack on the season but were able to get to Taysom Hill four times in the first half.
The second half saw more production from the offense as they made adjustments to get more opportunities to move the ball. BYU was able to put 14 points on the board – seven of which came on the final drive, when UCLA was playing prevent defense – but it wasn’t enough to overcome their early shortcomings.
“I think we finally found some holes in their zone and we were able to take some shots down field and got some protections. We all filled our assignment on a play and we were able to move the ball. When we do that, we’re pretty good,” said Hill.
One of the bright spots of the defense has been sophomore linebacker Butch Pau’u who led the team with 19 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Pau’u has quickly become a fan favorite with his bone jarring hits and signature smile after making big plays.
“I didn’t even know I had that many [tackles] I think the credit has to go to the D-Line. When you have a D-Line that is stout up front it allows plays to open up so you’re one-on-one with the running back,” said Pau’u. “I think it’s funny to go one-on-one with a running back because you know you’re going to crush him and on film it’s going to look great and you’re going to get credit from your Mom and Dad.”
The Coaches were impressed with Butch early on and said he earned the spot due to his impressive play in fall camp.
“He’s got great instincts and I’ve said it over and over again, it’s no surprise to me,” said Coach Sitake. “He has great instincts, he’s aggressive, and he loves to hit and that makes a great fit at middle linebacker. I’ve been really proud of him.”
Despite the loss, the Cougars are hungry to get back out on the field and are optimistic about the remaining schedule.
“It’s a gut check time, you can let adversity either unite you or divide you. I think our team is united and we’re all on the same page. Nobody is pointing fingers or blaming anybody else, we just have to be better in some phases than others but nothing is going to divide this team,” said Coach Sitake. “We’ll come back together strong and we just have to get back to work, work extremely hard and make things better.”
The Cougars next head to the east coast to face Big-12 foe West Virginia at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. Kickoff for that game will be at 3:30 pm ET and will air on ESPN2 or ESPNU.