Kalani Sitake Explains BYU’s Play Call On Costly Pick-Six To Oklahoma

Nov 18, 2023, 3:52 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2023, 11:11 am

PROVO, Utah – BYU football was poised to take a lead on Oklahoma late into the third quarter.

The momentum was on BYU’s side as the Cougars ground attack, the worst in the Big 12, ran all over Oklahoma’s defense. Thanks to big runs from UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins, BYU was set up with a 1st & Goal from the Oklahoma two-yard line.

Two yards away from taking a 24-17 lead on No. 14 Oklahoma, who was rattled on its previous offensive series with freshman Jackson Arnold stepping in for an injured Dillon Gabriel.

Then, just like that, Oklahoma –not BYU– was in the lead.

BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff threw an interception on the two to Oklahoma defensive back Billy Bowman. The Sooner DB returned it on the slippery LaVell Edwards Stadium grass 100 yards for the score.

All of the momentum that BYU built was suddenly gone.

Kalani Sitake said it was an “RPO” play call

What caused BYU to go to the air instead of running with Aidan Robbins again?

It was at the top of everyone’s mind after the game.

“The play call was an RPO (Run, Pass, Option), which means run first,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “…You don’t throw the pass unless nobody is covering him. I’ll have to go look at it, but I don’t think the receiver even thought the ball was going to go to him. This is one of those moments where you just got to hand the ball off.”

BYU lost to Oklahoma 31-24. It’s the fourth consecutive loss for a BYU team that falls to 5-6 and enters must-win territory next week at Oklahoma State in Stillwater to qualify for a bowl game.

Not a “Beastmode” situation

Instantly on social media, when Retzlaff tossed that interception, people on social media compared the interception that NFL QB Russell Wilson threw in Super Bowl XLIX to the New England Patriots instead of running the ball with Marshawn Lynch.

Sitake said it wasn’t a situation like that.

“It wasn’t like a ‘Beastmode’ type of decision back in the day. This was a definite RPO call, which is run is first. Usually, you only throw the ball if you have the numbers out there and try to go fast to see if you can throw them off in coverage. Sometimes you get a cheap one where guys aren’t noticing the formations he had at receiver in the slot.”

BYU football players react to the play

Robbins, who was in the backfield on that play, was asked if he was surprised he didn’t get the ball on that play.

“A little bit,” Robbins said. “But you know, I mean, it is what it is. You know, it happened and we can’t do anything to change that.”

Robbins finished the game with 22 carries for 182 yards and an average of 8.3 yards per carry.

It’s a brutal turn of events for BYU as they showed progress from the team that was embarrassed in each of their last three games during the current losing streak.

Jake Retzlaff did guide BYU’s offense down the field to score a touchdown to tie the game up at 24. But that was the last score the Cougar offense could get on the board before they stalled in the fourth quarter.

BYU wide receiver Kody Epps had the best performance of his injury-plagued season. Epps finished with six catches for 90 yards on nine targets. He shared what the play call was on that 1st & Goal.

“It was one of our get-on-the-ball plays. They were having some miscommunication and right when Jake snapped the ball, somebody came out of the pack they had, kind of in the middle of the field and came over and picked it off,” Epps said. “He made a really good play. Before a split second, it was open, but they just made a late call and got a guy over super quick.”

Moving forward from the loss

BYU’s offense had a productive day compared to the near-bottom-ranked unit they’ve had this season. They finished outgaining Oklahoma with 390 yards to the Sooners 368.

But it wasn’t enough.

It’s one of the wildest momentum swings, maybe ever in BYU football history. The opportunity to send a Big 12 power that’s moving on to the SEC with an upset loss and clinch bowl eligibility on Senior Day makes the seven-point more challenging to accept. But BYU has to move on and find a bounceback performance against Oklahoma State next week.

“Credit to their guy (Billy Bowman), they made the play and we made a mistake -a costly one- because you’re about to go up by seven, instead you go down by seven. So there’s a 14-point swing, which was horrible to go through,” said Kalani Sitake. “The guys fought back and we fought back from that moment and had our moments. But turnovers cost us, you cannot be careless with the football, whether it’s fumbles or interceptions and expect to beat teams. In the turnover margin, we lost this one.”

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 Explains BYU’s Play Call On Costly Pick-Six To Oklahoma