BYU football: 13-year bowl streak in jeopardy

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Aleva Hifo gets tackled against Mississippi State on Oct. 14. The Cougars finished with just 147 passing yards against the Bulldogs. (BYU Photo)

BYU’s 35-10 loss to Mississippi State was the Cougars’ sixth-consecutive defeat of the 2017 season.

There’s no sugarcoating it: If BYU wants to avoid its first losing season since 2004, it has to win out. Period.

“As any player, as any competitor, it sucks,” said wide receiver Neil Pau’u. “We’re all down…but we’ll be OK. Obviously, it’s not the season that we predicted. We’re optimistic and we think that we can pull off six-straight (wins). We know that each team is going to come very hard because, regardless of their schedule, or whatever their record is, they’re seeking wins as well. It’s going to be a tough six games, but I think we can pull it off.”

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake knows it’s possible to turn things around, but the team has to take it one week at a time.

“(It’s a) new week,” Sitake said on Monday. “Just getting the team ready for the next game and make another trip back east. Guys are excited to play better and (we’ll) see if we get that done this week. Just excited to move on to the next one after last week’s performance.”

The last time the Cougars started a season with a win followed by six losses was 1968, when BYU defeated Western Michigan before a six-game losing streak. The team finished 2-8 that year.

In 2004, the Cougars went 5-6 in Gary Crowton’s final year as head coach.

Since then, BYU has gone to 13-straight bowl games; that streak will end with one more Cougar loss.

Reflecting on the Mississippi game, Sitake acknowledged there are various issues that need to be fixed.

“You have to be a little careful because you can’t just make one comment and have it cover all 11 players,” Sitake said. “(Mississippi State) tested our depth and had a lot of plays in the first half. We just have to play a lot better.”

Sitake added that the defense’s inability to stop the Bulldogs on third down was a major problem.

Mississippi State had 35 first downs against BYU and converted on eight of its 13 third downs.

“(The defense) played hard, the effort was there,” Sitake said. “They just didn’t make enough plays and we have to revisit what we want to do this week and how we want to approach this game.”

One defensive bright spot that emerged from the loss was Dayan Ghanwoloku, who had two interceptions.

Offensively, BYU managed just 176 yards compared to Mississippi State’s 546.

The Cougars had 29 rushing yards and averaged 1.7 yards per carry against the Bulldogs.

Pau’u mentioned on Monday that offensive coordinator Ty Detmer “went off” on the offense and that the offense expects to produce more this weekend.

East Carolina preview

A trip to 1-6 East Carolina is up next for BYU, and it could be a catalyst for the Cougars’ stagnant offense.

Through seven games, BYU ranks 129th out of 130 teams in offensive yards per game (242) and points per game (11.4).

However, East Carolina ranks 130th in offensive yards allowed per game (600) and points allowed per game (50).

The Pirates average 22 points per game offensively and are led by quarterback Thomas Sirk.

Sirk went 9-for-21 against No. 21 UCF last week, throwing for 91 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the Pirates’ 63-21 loss.

All-time, BYU leads the head-to-head series 1-0. The only previous matchup between the teams came in 2015 with BYU winning 45-38 in Provo.

Kickoff in Greenville, North Carolina, is set for 5 p.m. MDT Saturday. The game will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network.