Analysis: Here’s what 5-3 BYU needs to do to make this November a memorable one

BYU players huddle before the Cougars’ game at No. 7 Texas at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.
BYU players huddle before the Cougars’ game at No. 7 Texas at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. | BYU photo

AUSTIN, Texas — OK, that 35-6 loss to No. 7 Texas got a little ugly, but was not entirely unexpected.

Anybody who has followed BYU’s first season in the Big 12 knows that Texas was going to be far too talented for these Cougars to pull off another stunner at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, and that’s how Saturday’s game played out.

“If the offense isn’t progressing down the field, (if) we are not scoring points, it is an 11-man problem. It is not just one guy.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake on struggles at the quarterback position

“I felt like we had such great prep going into this week,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “But even though you have great prep and you have plans of how things are going to go, you have to give credit to the great talent on the other side and the amazing coaching that they’ve done.”

Sure, BYU could have made it more competitive with a couple better plays, and better coaching decisions, but what’s done is done and it is time for the 5-3 Cougars to move on. BYU (2-3 in Big 12 play) heads back out on the road this week, traveling to Morgantown, West Virginia, to take on the surprising Mountaineers (3-2, 5-3) at 5 p.m. MDT on Saturday.

Before attention is turned to the team picked to finish dead last in the Big 12, but clearly won’t, now feels like a good time to compile a little pre-Christmas wish list, a look at what coach Kalani Sitake’s team needs in November to pick up that all-important sixth win and become eligible for a postseason bowl game.

Some of these needs are attainable; Others are not. Dreamers gotta dream.

Here are a few:

• Give pocket-passer Kedon Slovis more help. Cougar fans got spoiled the past five years with Zach Wilson and Jaren Hall at the controls. Both were true dual-threat QBs. Even fill-in Baylor Romney, an option quarterback in high school, could run around a little bit.

Slovis can’t. That’s just not his game, although he did have a career-high 21-yard run against Texas’ reserves in the fourth quarter. He doesn’t have much escapability, which is a big thing in college football these days, if you haven’t noticed.

How is Slovis’ health? He’s taken a lot of big hits in making eight starts for BYU.

“Yeah, it is football. You are going to get beat up sometimes. (Texas had a) really good defense, really good defensive line. I thought our offensive line did a good job handling them. They are one of the best I’ve been around, if not the best. But yeah, that is the game of football for you. You gotta keep getting up.”

We’re not advocating for a change. Not yet, anyway. Slovis deserves at least two more starts, including in this upcoming night game. If you know, you know.

“If the offense isn’t progressing down the field, (if) we are not scoring points, it is an 11-man problem. It is not just one guy,” Sitake said Saturday, when asked if he considered making a change.

Are backups Jake Retzlaff and Cade Fennegan more mobile than Slovis? Probably.

Know who the Cougars could really use right now, perhaps in a Wildcat formation to mix things up a bit? A run-first former QB by the name of Sol-Jay Maiava Peters. You know, the New Mexico Bowl offensive MVP.

• A healthy Hinckley Ropati would also help. Ropati’s season-ending knee injury during fall camp didn’t cause much of a stir, largely because the Cougars had a couple transfer RBs in Deion Smith and Aidan Robbins and freshman LJ Martin was drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff. BYU could really use Ropati right now, with Martin banged up and Robbins still trying to find his footing after a fall camp rib injury. Ropati was decent in pass protection, and exceptional in the screen game.

• Better coaching. Whatever juice that Jay Hill has brought to the BYU defense has to be shared with the offense, for obvious reasons.

Also, Sitake and his staff need to improve in game management. BYU seems to burn more timeouts than any team in the country when guys aren’t lined up right, play calls don’t get in on time, etc. Remember all those illegal touching penalties earlier in the season? And the way that 16-play drive that took 9:52 off the clock ended with BYU having to settle for a 24-yard Will Ferrin field goal was inexcusable.


Former special teams coordinator and associate head coach Ed Lamb wasn’t perfect, but he seemed to have a better grip on the processes, rules and procedures of college football.

• Which brings us to another need: Hey Cougars, stop trying for big kickoff returns. Take the ball on the 25 and stop putting your offense in awful field position. Seems simple.

• Finally, execute better on first down, perhaps be more creative early in possessions. The Cougars were 2 of 13 on third down against Texas and are now 127th in the country of 133 teams in third-down conversion percentage (28.97). As Slovis mentioned after the game, it all starts with first down, and not getting anything out of it.

Cougars on the air

BYU (2-3, 5-3)
at West Virginia (3-2, 5-3)
Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT
Milan Puskar Stadium
(Capacity: 67,215)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

“We just gotta be better on first down, and that’s me throwing completions, us running the ball well and more consistently,” Slovis said. “Again, that is not on the O line or the running backs. It is an 11-man deal. … Staying ahead of the sticks is huge. That’s how you have a good offense with good rhythm.”

For the first time since a Wilson-led team lost 13-3 to San Diego State in 2019, BYU was held without a touchdown in the loss at Texas. It was the sixth time this season, in eight games, that BYU was held to fewer than 300 yards of offense.

Something needs to change.