It is a storyline that writes itself this week as the BYU Cougars travel to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks on Saturday in front of more than 70,000 fans in Fayetteville after getting embarrassed defensively in last year’s 52-35 debacle in Provo.
BYU is out for revenge, right?
“Man, revenge can only get you so far. You know what I mean? I think the key for us is to keep things more simple than that.” — BYU football coach Kalani Sitake.
Neither head coach Kalani Sitake nor players Chase Roberts, Keanu Hill and Tyler Batty would go there Monday during the Cougars’ weekly press briefing. If the Cougars are focused on payback, they are doing a much better job disguising it than they were at disguising their defensive schemes last October.
“Man, revenge can only get you so far. You know what I mean?” Sitake said. “I think the key for us is to keep things more simple than that.”
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson threw for 367 yards and a career-high five touchdowns and Raheim “Rocket” Sanders rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries as the visitors put 644 yards on the Cougars. That game was the beginning of the end for BYU’s defensive staff, and the second defeat in a four-game losing steak.
“The fans probably weren’t happy about that game, obviously,” Sitake said. “But for our players, this is a whole separate deal, and I think that is the way we got to keep it. Just focus on what is the task at hand, and that is making sure we do our part to be ready: Go out there, scout them out. We have watched them on film. They are very impressive.”
The fact that BYU has 60 new players who weren’t on the roster that crisp and sunny day doesn’t play into the Cougars’ lack of a plan for payback, Sitake said, noting that revenge just isn’t something the program gets into a lot.
“We really look forward to this game and trying to find ways that we can become a better program and a better team from this experience,” he said. “I just want to make sure that we do all our jobs as a head coach and assistants from Monday through Friday and even Saturday before kickoff.”
The Cougars will see the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Jefferson again — the fifth-year senior has guided the Hogs to wins over Western Carolina and Kent State in 2023 — but Sanders will be watching from the sidelines. Coach Sam Pittman said Monday in his presser that Sanders will be out for the second-straight game with a knee injury.
Cornerback Dwight McGlothern, who left early in the 28-6 win over Kent State with turf toe, is probable, Pittman said.
Kickoff is at 5:30 p.m. MDT at Razorbacks Stadium and the game will be televised by ESPN2.
BYU and Sitake generally do not comment on the extent of injuries, but Sitake said after Saturday’s 41-16 win over Southern Utah that receiver Kody Epps should make his 2023 debut against the Hogs after missing the Cougars’ first two games.
Epps had a career-high 125 receiving yards against Arkansas last year, then suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the following week at Liberty. Fellow receiver Hill said he’s familiar with Arkansas’ brand because he grew up in Texas and his father, Lloyd, faced the Hogs in the old Southwest Conference days.
“I just think they are a very physical team in general, and all around. They are coming from the SEC, where they play (teams) like Bama and Georgia and all those boys,” Keanu Hill said. “So just being very physical and being very sound, especially with their defense (is their reputation). They do a lot of twisting and turning and bring a lot of stunts and things like that.”
Roberts had one catch for 6 yards last year, part of BYU’s 471 yards and 27 first downs, which normally would have been enough for a victory had the Cougars not turned the ball over three times and played like a sieve on defense.
“We are excited to play a great team like Arkansas,” Roberts said. “We are going to focus on doing our thing.”
A thing that doesn’t include thoughts of revenge.
“I mean, we are always confident. We trust in coach (Aaron) Roderick and his play calling. And we trust in our guys. We put the right guys out there in the right moments, and we are all there to make plays, and to score touchdowns,” Roberts said. “This week we are going to prepare the best way we can to go put up some points and let the defense do their thing. And if we do that and just stick to the fundamentals, the outcome is going to be something we want. So, we are excited.”
The Hogs were 12 of 15 on third down. The BYU defense, revamped under new coordinator Jay Hill, has a chance to make amends. Or does it?
“Taking things one game at a time,” Batty said. “Arkansas is next up on the schedule and so we are really excited for the opportunity to go out there and play. They’ve got a really good team and we are just really looking forward to getting to play football again this weekend.”
Jefferson’s signature play in last year’s game came on third-and-11 in the third quarter. BYU defenders Batty, John Nelson, Pepe Tanuvasa and Ben Bywater all had a chance to sack Jefferson and get off the field, but he shrugged them off and found tight end Trey Knox for a big gain and the first down. He threw a 15-yard TD pass to Rashod Dubinion three plays later to make it a two-score game, and BYU wilted in the fourth quarter.
“There was some error on our side,” Batty said, when asked about the play by an Arkansas reporter. “And like you said, he is a big, physical dude. On that play, yeah, he got away from us. Believe me, I remember it vividly. I was the first one that got to him. I remember it vividly.”
BYU also released its Week 3 depth chart on Monday, but there were no major changes.
That is to say that struggling running back Aidan Robbins, with just 29 yards on 10 carries through 10 games, is still listed as RB1.
Some of the “or” designations have been removed from the offensive line starters and their backups. And there are now three starting cornerbacks — Kamden Garrett, Jakob Robinson and Eddie Heckard — and no listing for a nickel back spot.