Column: For BYU football, everything is upside down

Halloween is a few days away, but for BYU football, the month of October could not have been any more haunted.

The Cougars — who entered the month 4-1 and ranked No. 16 in the nation — have all but fallen apart since, dropping three straight games to slip out of the AP top 25. Most frustratingly, for the first time since 2019, BYU isn’t relevant. That’s definitely not the direction you want to go just before entering the Big 12 next summer.

Expectations for this team were sky high in the preseason. Some pundits even picked BYU as a sleeper New Year’s Six or playoff squad, but now the Cougars may not even be eligible for a bowl game.

What happened?

Well, what hasn’t happened? There have been injuries everywhere, captains quitting midseason, kicking controversies, questionable quarterback health, underwhelming play-calling, inability to run the football, a defense as firm as Casper the friendly ghost, no discipline on the field, players-only meetings ending angrily, coaches switching roles and assignments midseason, a locker room growing increasingly hostile and no sort of solution in sight.

Simply put, it’s been a collapse, meltdown, disaster or whatever else you want to call it. It’s the lowest point of Kalani Sitake’s tenure in Provo by far. It’s something that “love and learn” can’t fix.

Between 2020-21, BYU lost four games total. In 2022, it’s only taken eight weeks to match that number.

Zach Wilson’s New York Jets — the JETS, for crying out loud! — have won more games than the Cougars, and the post-fire sale tank-it-’til-you-make-it Jazz roster has somehow squeezed out four wins in five tries. No, this isn’t the Twilight Zone. It’s BYU’s frightening reality where everyone can win except the Cougars.

Even a near-immediate 14-3 lead over Liberty this past weekend wasn’t enough to push the Cougars forward, as the Flames rallied for (brace yourselves) 38 UNANSWERED POINTS to flat out embarrass BYU. Losses to Oregon, Notre Dame and Arkansas can be justified, but BYU should never be losing to Liberty. That’s not a knock on the Flames, who have a strong program, beautiful facilities, classy fans and plenty of talented athletes, but when Liberty is recruiting more explosive, capable athletes than BYU, something is terribly wrong.

By the way, on any given play, BYU’s defense averages 3.1 walk-ons and another 3.6 players who only held offers from BYU. So basically, on an average play, BYU trots out 6.7 players out of 11 who no other FBS program deemed worthy of a scholarship. Just wanted to throw that out there.

BYU has allowed more points than it’s scored, which is almost impossible to believe considering the amount of supposed NFL talent the Cougars possess on offense and the fact that Ilaisa Tuiaki brought back 10 defensive starters from 2021. It almost doesn’t add up, but the results speak for themselves: BYU is broken.

Here’s a scary thought: If you walk from the duck pond south of campus up to the Marriott Center, that distance is still less than what BYU’s defense has surrendered in the past three weeks. The Cougars have given up 1,687 yards in October, equating to 0.95 miles of offense. Judging by the need for 11-man substitutions on defense, I’m not even sure BYU is sufficiently conditioned to run 0.95 miles in practice.

Jaren Hall carried this team through September, but now the load has become unbearable. Hall’s past month has seen an uptick in interceptions and incompletions, a drop in passing efficiency and a seismic shift in his projected draft position. You’ve got to give credit to Hall, who’s played through several injuries in October and had to deal with limited personnel on offense, but he can no longer carry this team on his own. These problems have grown far beyond his reach.

The Cougars will have the chance to snap out of their funk Friday night against East Carolina, but that game is far from a gimme. The Pirates have scored more than 33 points per game while converting third downs at the ninth-best rate in the country (52.3%), while BYU’s defense has failed on 30 of 43 third down tries in October (69.7%). If Friday comes down to third down success, the Cougars are cooked.

Oh, and if BYU loses to East Carolina, where are its other wins on the schedule?

Time is running out for the Cougars to clinch bowl eligibility, where they need to finish 2-2 in order to do so. They’ll beat Utah Tech in the home finale, but where will they find another win? BYU likely won’t stop East Carolina on third down, has to face a 5-2 Boise State team on the blue turf — where the Cougars have won just once before — and while BYU should beat Stanford to close out the regular season, if the Cougars are 5-6 heading into Palo Alto, they may be too broken to even want to play another game.

Can BYU rally to save its season? Or are the Cougars doomed to continue their current slide and begin the Big 12 era even further behind?

Anything can happen, but my internal Magic 8 Ball tells me “outlook not so good.”

Jackson Payne is the lead columnist at Daily Universe Sports. Follow him on Twitter @jackson5payne.

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