In the last 11 football seasons (since 2007), BYU has won it’s season-opener 10 times — with the only loss being the lightning-delayed game at Virginia in 2013.
While that stat is one Cougar fans can be proud of, the reality is that is hasn’t been easy to maintain that success even for another week.
In five of those 10 years, BYU ended up falling short in their second game — including the 27-0 loss to LSU in New Orleans in 2017 and the 20-19 loss at Utah in 2016.
So while the Cougars might be pleased to have started 2018 with a nice 28-23 road win at Arizona last Saturday, the focus on Monday is to continue to improve.
“I think we hit on the points that we needed to improve on and the film confirmed it,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said at Monday’s press conference. “It was a good learning opportunity for us and the fact that we got a win is a huge positive. I was really pleased with the players’ effort. We had a lot of young guys contribute in this win and I think we’re going to keep adding young guys as we go along. All the hard work paid off but we’re also just getting started. There are some things we can learn from but we have to move on and get ready for Cal.”
It was a reward for a Cougar group that has had to deal with the memories of 2017’s disaster 9-4 record, using them as motivation for nine months.
“That’s what we wanted,” BYU senior linebacker Butch Pau’u said. “We’ve worked so hard for that first win. When you have a team that’s doing 600 up-downs as a punishment and then run stadiums right after, it’s tough and it’s a grind. We’re just thankful that all of our hard work paid off and the energy right for the team is at a high. Everyone showcased that we’re a great team and can play with anyone. We just hope to keep the wins rolling.”
The Cougars earned some well-deserved praise for their performance as they limited the Arizona offense and made some big plays on the offensive side of the ball, particularly in the third quarter.
But as the team evaluated the film of the game, they also saw areas that could’ve been better.
On offense, BYU senior tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau described watching the film when the Cougars just missed on making some big plays on long passes.
“It’s exciting because it is so early,” he said. “This was our first game. We know that all those balls are ones we can complete and we can get that much better. If we complete those, it’s a totally different game. It’s one of our goals. We’ll make those 50/50 balls — but in our minds it’s our ball.”
The defensive guys felt like they did pretty well but admitted that giving up two late touchdowns drives to the Wildcats didn’t sit well with them.
“We put the blame on ourselves as a defense,” Pau’u said. “We gave up too many penalties and they gained a lot of free yards because of that. We believe that if they hadn’t gotten all of those penalties, they wouldn’t have scored 23 points. We were doing a great job, so we have to make sure we focus on the fundamentals of the game so we can play a perfect quarter and then a perfect game.”
He also added that senior Sione Takitaki and junior Chris Wilcox each hope to get the next interception instead of knocking it away from each other, as happened against Arizona.
“They were for sure upset about it,” Pau’u said. “But Chris has to be a ballhawk and so does Sione. It’s tough when two guys go up for the ball at the same time.”
The goal for the entire team after one win is to ride the momentum and energy moving forward — but they know it won’t be easy win Cal comes to town Saturday night (8:15 p.m. MT, ESPN2/ESPNU).
“The important thing is that we do our job in big moments,” Pau’u said. “It’s a big game and so some guys may tense up or get nervous, but we need to understand that we are playing for each other and we are playing for each other. Then we can be relaxed and play our game.”