BYU Trending Towards Changes On Defense For Liberty Week

Oct 17, 2022, 5:40 PM
BYU Football, Kalani Sitake, Defense...
BYU football coach Kalani Sitake fielded questions centered around the struggling defense as Liberty week begins. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – BYU football defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki probably summed up the performance of BYU’s defense against Arkansas the best during his interview on Coordinators’ Corner.

“When you have games like that –from top to bottom–, you’ve got to look at who’s doing what, what role are you asked to do, or are you going to change your role? Our players are always scrutinized for how they play, and changes are made,” said Tuiaki on Monday. “So for us as coaches, we’ve got to look at it as well and just figure out, do roles need to change and are we on board?”

BYU football is looking to improve on defense

After giving up 644 yards of offense to an Arkansas team that came into Saturday’s game against BYU reeling after three consecutive losses, changes seem imminent. What type of changes? That is not clearly defined yet.

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, who KSL Sports asked Saturday if he would take over the play-calling on the defensive side, respectfully held off on giving an answer but noted it was an “option.”

Fast forward to Monday’s press conference over Zoom, Sitake fielded a similar question asking him if he would be more involved with the play-calling against 6-1 Liberty on Saturday (1:30 p.m., ESPNU & KSL NewsRadio).

“I’m looking at all the different options that are out there. I think it’s more important that we talk to our team first and talk to our players and communicate with them first before I mention that,” Sitake said on Monday. “I can go through all the changes we’ve made from day one to now and probably, you guys would get tired of it. But there’s some cool things, good things to carry over and there’s some things that we can tweak and some major changes that you can do. Right now, I think it’s all the timing is to make sure that whatever changes we feel comfortable with, we talk to the players first in the program.”

BYU player hearing that Sitake will be more involved on defense

One of those players, BYU linebacker Ben Bywater, was on the KSL Sports Zone during his weekly Monday interview hours before the press conference. He admitted he had not heard much but did hear that changes were coming.

“They haven’t told us much, unfortunately,” Bywater said to the KSL Sports Zone. “But I do know that Kalani is going to be a little more involved with the defense, from what I’ve heard. Which I’m excited about. He’s such a great football and a great defensive mind. So that’s what I’ve heard; I’m not exactly sure. But you know, the more hands on deck, the merrier. If we can get Kalani in there, I’m excited. I trust all of those coaches; I know that they are doing the best they can and so just, unfortunately, we came up short last Saturday. But yeah, some changes I’m sure will be made and so I think as the week goes on, you guys will get more of an idea of what the changes are.”

After Saturday’s loss to Arkansas, Bywater blamed himself and his BYU teammates for the poor defensive performance against the Hogs, saying, “We gotta be better.”

BYU is currently 94th nationally in total defense, allowing 404.4 yards per game. The rushing defense has been one of the nation’s worse, ranking in the bottom 20 by giving up 189.1 yards per game. Then the scoring defense is giving up 30 points per contest.

With numbers like that, in what ways is Sitake, a seventh-year coach at his alma mater, holding his staff accountable?

“There’s accountability in a lot of different things that’s for everybody that’s in the program,” Sitake said. “It is happening. That’s my job as a head coach is to make sure that there’s accountability in everybody, that everyone does their role and that the roles are defined. So that’s pretty much it.”

Bouncing back from adversity

BYU football came into the 2022 season as one of the most experienced teams in college football. The defense had hundreds of starts combined returning, and for this adversity to happen, it’s a bit surprising to a team that started the year in the preseason AP Top 25.

When Sitake has faced adversity in the past, he has bounced up off the mat and got BYU back on track. In 2017, while BYU was navigating a brutal 4-9 season, Sitake would consistently say comments such as, “I know how to get it fixed.” He did, by going outside of his coaching tree and hiring Jeff Grimes and new offensive staff.

In 2019, when BYU was 2-4, and Sitake’s head coach seat was scorching hot after losses to Toledo and USF, Sitake was confident he could get it fixed. And he did it again, saving his job, by taking over the playcalling duties on defense and then turning to Aaron Roderick as a play caller on offense.

Does he have that same confidence again?

“Yeah, of course,” Sitake said. “The answer is not all with me. I don’t have all the answers to everything. But I know people that do and I know that I have resources that can get that done. I’m not afraid to look for places that we can improve on but also, the answers didn’t all come from my stuff.

“We talk about our team culture, and this team culture was built off of what LaVell [Edwards] did for me. I understand how to get it done. And I understand where and who he used to make sure that we’re in a good position. So that’s where I’m at right now.”

Getting BYU football back on track

Ultimately, all this talk over potential changes is to get a season on the brink of becoming a forgettable one back on track. If BYU wins out, a third consecutive double-digit win season is there for the taking.

“We’re going to ask some players to change their roles,” said Ilaisa Tuiaki on Coordinators’ Corner. “We’re going to have some coaches change their roles and we have to go about it for the rest of the season. We can still have a great season.”

But the improvement has to happen in a hurry, as prognosticators view BYU-Liberty as a potential toss-up game.

“I just want to see our guys play at their best. That’s going to be the goal,” said Sitake. “You guys have heard me say that every week, so it’s about time that happens.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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