COUGAR TRACKS

BYU Football Proves In Loss To No. 14 Oklahoma They Aren’t Giving Up

Nov 18, 2023, 4:59 PM | Updated: Nov 20, 2023, 11:10 am

PROVO, Utah – After suffering a humiliating loss to Iowa State last week, BYU football head coach Kalani Sitake said he came away “excited” watching that film in his Monday press conference.

It was a strange comment for a coach that suffered a 32-point beatdown and a third consecutive loss.

Fast forward to Saturday, BYU battled No. 14 Oklahoma for a full 60 minutes before falling 31-24. That comment makes a lot more sense.

BYU football brought the fight against No. 14 Oklahoma

Sitake left the Iowa State game proud that his team was bringing the effort and not giving up. That gave him reason for optimism. While the outside noise from fans and media felt BYU was ready to roll over and give up on the season, they showed the complete opposite in a 31-24 loss to Oklahoma.

Going through a mistake-filled game against the Sooners, Sitake wasn’t accepting moral victories. But it should give a jolt of energy and optimism to BYU as they face an even more challenging test next week against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

“So proud of the guys’ fight. Really, no moral victories and we knew we could play with people. I’m glad that they were able to show it on the field.”

The 2023 season has always been about getting to bowl eligibility for BYU. Anyone who can look at the situation in front of BYU objectively knows losses would be coming as they navigate their inaugural season in the Big 12.

But the beatdowns they’ve taken since the TCU game on October 14 were shocking and raised questions about whether BYU was ready to compete at the Power Five level. They’ve looked unprepared in many games, but on Saturday, they were prepared.

BYU outgained Oklahoma in total yards, 390 to 368. They rushed for 217 on the ground after an entire season of struggles to produce any success with the running attack.

Defensively, BYU forced Oklahoma into four punts while making rattling five-star freshman QB Jackson Arnold early before he settled in and closed out the game.

Oklahoma coach Brent Venables recognized the effort from BYU

Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables noticed how BYU competed after his team escaped with a narrow seven-point win in their first-ever visit to Provo.

“Heck of an effort that was by BYU,” Venables said after the game to reporters. “No surprise, they play really well at home.”

Venables added, “I love Coach (Sitake), what he does and what he’s about. He’s a former player here. They take great pride, very passionate. We gave them a little bit of hope early. A great atmosphere; this is a really cool place. And the players showed that they have great belief and great pride in the jersey they put on every Saturday, especially at home.”

A handful of costly turnovers derailed the upset bid. Punch in the RPO call on the two-yard line with a handoff to Aidan Robbins. We might be talking about BYU packing its bags to Shreveport, Louisiana, again.

An outcome nobody around the BYU program would be complaining about this time around.

“The effort has been great. Listen, guys, in some of the games that we’ve had when we’ve been blown out, the majority of guys have given great effort. I think it’s easy to say, well, they didn’t give effort in this game and they gave effort in the other ones. The guys and the leaders are playing their butts off.

“A lot of it is the mistakes that we’re making and sometimes when you’re making mistakes, and you’re not going 100% it just looks like you’re lost out there. But the guys work hard and we demand effort from all of them.”

Culture of the BYU football program on display

The culture of Sitake’s program has always been “love and learning.” As a program, BYU is “learning” how challenging a weekly Big 12 schedule is compared to facing Utah Tech, Idaho State, and New Mexico State in November.

But the “love” that Sitake has provided to his players, regardless of the outcome, shows that they are going to battle every week.

It’s still a bottom-line business in college football that comes down to wins and losses. Right now, BYU is racking up far too many L’s in the loss column.

Still, the performance on Saturday against Oklahoma shows that BYU, with Sitake leading the way, is getting things turned around. That’s what they need heading into the 2024 offseason: a belief and momentum to build on.

Finding a way to keep working

The effort and willingness to continue battling through adversity gives hope for BYU to be a tough out in the 16-team Big 12 that won’t feature the Sooners as they move on to the SEC.

“We have to find a way to keep working,” said Sitake. “We’re building something nice here and part of the building process is that we have to find a way to try to extend the season so we can utilize those practices to develop our players.”

Coming out of Saturday’s loss, there should be no doubt that BYU will get back to work to find a way to put themselves in a position to compete for that sixth win next week in Stillwater.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com 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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BYU Football Proves In Loss To No. 14 Oklahoma They Aren’t Giving Up