Kalani Sitake Sees BYU Defense ‘Not Believing In System’ After Iowa State Loss

Nov 12, 2023, 1:42 AM | Updated: Nov 13, 2023, 3:30 pm

PROVO, Utah – For the third consecutive week, BYU football suffered through a blowout loss.

Saturday night, BYU dropped to 5-5 overall on the year after falling to Iowa State 45-13. Remember when this team was 5-2 at one point?

It’s a distant memory.

BYU football is on a three-game losing streak

Getting blown out against Texas that’s one thing. But allowing 45 points through three quarters against Iowa State? There’s something that appears to be wrong with BYU’s defense.

Head coach Kalani Sitake was candid in his postgame comments when asked what’s happened to the defense that can no longer come up with stops consistently.

Sitake replied, “That’s a good question. I don’t have all the answers to that. I will probably have better answers for you on Monday after watching the film. But my first response to that is probably guys not believing in the system and not believing in what we’re doing.”

That critique is valid. Anyone watching this BYU team right now can see that the defense is reeling.

All three phases of the game for BYU are reeling. The offense tossed an interception on the first player of the game. Special teams had a fumble on a kickoff, penalties, and subpar execution. There’s blame everywhere.

But the fall from BYU’s defense has been a sharp decline.

They opened the season, holding Sam Houston to a shutout. BYU forced five takeaways in their last victory a month ago over Texas Tech. That ball-hawking defense has been missing in action over the past three weeks.

Sitake continued, “There’s a lot of missed tackles, mistakes with the fundamentals. It’s just missed tackles and body position. A lot of guys slipping all over the place, not making plays. Defensively, you have to stop the run. You have to figure out a way to stop the run and we did not do that. They had so many big plays, a lot of it seemed to happen on third down.

“So we’ve got to figure that out and there’s probably a bunch of different ways to get that done. I’m open for all of it and I’m looking forward to fixing that and getting that done by the time we take the field again next week.”

BYU’s defense is lacking any playmaking ability

When asked a follow-up if defensive players weren’t bought into Jay Hill’s defensive scheme, Sitake focused on himself.

“I’ve been around the scheme for a long time, most of my career. The way it works is everybody’s got to do their 1/11th,” Sitake said. “So when your opportunity comes, you’ve got to find a way to make plays. But we’re responsible for that. Me as a head coach, all the coaches on defense; Jay Hill and the rest of them. We have to find ways to get guys to do their part. And everybody’s got to do their part, starting with me. So that’s just not good enough.”

Iowa State redshirt freshman quarterback Rocco Becht passed for 203 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He was sacked only once in the game. That was by BYU captain Tyler Batty.

BYU’s issues stopping the run continued by allowing 234 yards to the Cyclones, led by Abu Sama, who finished with 110 yards.

“If we’re gonna stop the run, this is a gap sound, assignment sound type of defense,” Sitake said. “There’s teams that are out there that are running the same type of scheme and system and they’re having great success at it. We’ve had great success with it early in the season. So gotta find guys that can get it done; coach it the way it’s supposed to be done and then find ways to be effective.”

Player perspective

One of the leaders of BYU’s defense is AJ Vongphachanh. He finished with a game-high eight tackles in the loss to Iowa State. Vongphachanh has been a mainstay in speaking to the media after difficult losses. He was asked if he feels players are bought into the scheme.

“I definitely think so,” Vongphachanh said on the defense, believing in the system. “I know the guys come every day, practice hard and we put the time and effort into it–which is why it’s frustrating. You come out and don’t get the outcome we want. At the end of the day, I do believe that the guys believe and I don’t think that’s an issue at all.”

BYU’s schedule isn’t getting any easier. Next up for BYU is a Senior Day finale against nationally-ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners star quarterback, Dillon Gabriel, accounted for eight touchdowns in their blowout 59-20 victory over West Virginia.

“We have a great opportunity next to play against a really good Oklahoma team,” said Sitake. “But we’ve got to get back to work and try to get some things resolved and find some momentum–especially after coming off a three-game losing streak.”

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 Mitch’s coverage of BYU in the Big 12 Conference on X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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Kalani Sitake Sees BYU Defense ‘Not Believing In System’ After Iowa State Loss