When asked what the mood in the locker room was after Friday’s disappointing 40-24 loss at Utah State, senior linebacker and captain Fred Warner got straight to the point.
“It sucks,” he said. “We just lost the game, so it sucks.”
The irony is that one of the major reasons for the frustration shifted significantly.
The BYU offense appeared to have broken out of its funk as it tallied nearly 400 yards of total offense. That may not be a huge number but it was the best Cougar performance of 2017.
But when the chips are down, sometimes a team just trades one problem for another.
The Cougars had six turnovers in the first four games (six interceptions, no fumbles) — then went out and more than doubled that number in a single game with four interceptions and three fumbles against the Aggies.
It was a tough blow to the BYU defense, which could do nothing to stop the two pick-6s and was forced to come onto the field with Utah State already in Cougar territory six times during the game.
“We put them in some bad spots,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I thought they played with great effort and made some big plays. I was pleased with some of the things the defense did.”
But there simply were too many times the Cougar offense gave Utah State big opportunities.
“The defense can’t control that,” Warner said. “I’ve tried to be there for the offense and that’s all I can do right now. All I can do is keep making myself better for this team and keep creating opportunities for our offense.”
Warner’s key to fixing the mistakes was simple and obvious.
“We’ve got to protect the football,” Warner said. “We can’t win games if the turnover margin is favoring the other team. The defense has got to make more plays.”
BYU has lost the turnover battle in four straight games — all losses — and is currently minus-9 in overall turnover margin. That doesn’t include failure to convert on fourth down, where the Cougars are 0-for-6 in 2018.
Those numbers are the complete opposite of where BYU (or any other college football team) wants to be.
“We pride ourselves on taking care of the football,” Sitake said.
Three of the mistakes came after solid gains on running plays, only to have Utah State defenders knock the ball away from Cougar sophomore Austin Kafentzis once and freshman running back Ula Tolutau twice.
“On the extra effort stuff, you really have to take care of the football because guys are just teeing off on you, whether it is from the back or the front or the side,” Sitake said. “The intent is nice that they want to gain more yards, but not at the risk of losing the ball and giving up turnovers.”
Three of the other turnovers were interceptions by BYU sophomore quarterback Koy Detmer Jr., who was seeing his first real game action.
Cougar junior wide receiver Beau Tanner said it was tough for Detmer but that the BYU team still believes in him.
“I think he’s a great player,” Tanner said. “He works as hard as anyone I know on the team. All the guys love him and trust him. I’m sure he would’ve liked to do better but we all would’ve liked to do a lot better. That’s not acceptable for us.”
Tanner added that the Cougar offense has to fix the ball-security issues immediately.
“We have to run better routes and secure the ball,” he said. “It starts with everyone doing their job. We need to trust each other and secure the ball. It’s embarrassing how many turnovers we are having but we’re going to fix it.”
Warner wasn’t willing to point to one area. He believes in the team concept.
“In all phases we could’ve done better,” Warner said. “In all phases we didn’t play the way we should have. The defense should’ve got more turnovers and got off the field when we needed to. I’m just really frustrated right now.”
Sitake said the only course of action is to keep battling and improving.
“We’re in a hole right now and we’ve got to bounce back,” Sitake said. “But you can only do it by trying to win the next one. I love the way these guys compete. Obviously they are hurt right now — and it is supposed to hurt — but we’ll build off of this and find a way to respond next week.”