DICKSON: 1,000 games for BYU, and this was one to forget

September 17, 2017

Saturday was BYU’s 1,000th game as a football program.

Think about that for a moment.

One thousand.

The Cougars have won a good number of those games and produced some pretty amazing seasons.

Saturday’s game against No. 10 Wisconsin wasn’t pretty and 2017 will not be a special season.

That’s really what BYU fans are waiting for, isn’t it? With no conference affiliation, the only result that makes a season “special” would be an undefeated run through the regular season, followed by a New Year’s Six bowl game.

This column is likely four games late. Anyone who saw BYU-Portland State to open the season had to realize this was a team with a lot of flaws and holes that weren’t going to be worked out anytime soon.

In Saturday’s 40-6 loss to No. 10 Wisconsin, we saw pretty much just how far the Cougars are from being a Top 10 team. BYU is a Power 5 team in many ways, but not a Top 10 team by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s been disappointing this year, not so much the losses but how they’ve happened. In Kalani Sitake’s first season, the Cougars were competitive in every game, P5 or not. Even picked up three P5 wins, including a dominating performance at Michigan State.

Two non-competitive losses to LSU and Wisconsin — you can throw the Utah game in there as well, despite a one-score finish — and we have a pretty good idea where BYU sits.

It didn’t help that the Cougars have three players on the sideline as part of the All-Scooter/Walking Boot Team (quarterback Tanner Mangum, safety Zayne Anderson and tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau). BYU isn’t deep enough to survive those kinds of losses.

I give credit to BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, who had to work a scheme change with the injury to Tanner Mangum and sophomore Beau Hoge his starting quarterback. The Cougars went high tempo, no-huddle most of the game and were able to move the ball at times against a stingy Wisconsin defense. But the offense wasn’t nearly consistent enough and Hoge played like a guy making his first career start against a Top 10 team.

BYU’s pass defense was softer than the chocolate chip cookies the LaVell Edwards Stadium press box serves, and those suckers melt in your mouth. Add in no pass rush and that means opponents are completing better than 80 percent against the Cougars, a ridiculous number in practice let alone a game.

It’s not as if BYU has been facing Heisman Trophy candidates at quarterback. Portland State’s Jalani Eason was a true freshman making his first collegiate start. Utah’s Tyler Huntley is more of a runner than a passer, but carved up the Cougar defense in his second career start. LSU’s Danny Etling and Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook are basically guys whose main skill is handing off to All-American running backs.

Hornibrook had a career game against the Cougars, completing 18 of 19 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns.

Sitake said the Cougars wanted to see how they measured up to a team like Wisconsin.

“That was our answer,” Sitake said, adding that the Badgers put on a “clinic” and overwhelmed BYU in all ways.

So BYU’s special season will not be this year, apparently.

What now?

The schedule is considerably lighter the rest of the way for the 1-3 Cougars, though I shudder to think was duel-threat quarterback Nick Fitzgerald will do to BYU’s marshmallow-soft pass coverage in Stark-Vegas on Oct. 14.

Take a little comfort in that there are some really good young players on the Cougar roster. Freshman running back Ula Tolutau, freshman defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga, sophomore receiver Micah Simon and freshman tight end Matt Bushman are coming stars.

Sitake still doesn’t have many guys he recruited playing major roles just yet.

Take hope in that.

This might have to be the year that all of BYU’s early-season opponents have terrific seasons. Anyone for an LSU-Wisconsin NCAA playoff? For Utah to win a Pac-12 Conference title? For Portland State to make the FCS playoffs?

Someone threw out on Twitter that BYU was a four-point underdog to BYE this week.

Yeah, the Cougars get a week off to think about the misery that was the first four games of the season, with an LDS General Conference weekend showdown against in-state rival Utah State next up on the schedule.

Hey, the Dairy Utes scored 10 points against Wisconsin.

Time for the Cougars to get in a fair fight.

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