BYU football’s relaxed, fun-loving mentality helped Cougars upset No. 6 Wisconsin
One of the most iconic traditions for Wisconsin football fans at home games is “Jump Around.”
During the break between the third and fourth quarters, the song by the hip-hop group House of Pain blares over the speakers and the Badger crowd follows the directive by jumping. Having 80,000 people bouncing around makes Camp Randall Stadium literally shake.
The BYU football team decided during the week leading up to Saturday’s matchup with No 6-ranked Wisconsin in Madison to listen to the song and prepare for that moment psychologically.
And when “Jump Around” started playing, the Cougars on the field jumped and danced along with everyone else.
It was one example of how loose and relaxed BYU was, even in such a high-pressure game as big underdogs.
“That was fun,” Cougar head coach Kalani Sitake said after his team secured the 24-21 upset. “We had so much fun on the sideline the entire game. We had a great time, not worrying about the score but just playing hard and trusting each other. We just kept sticking with it and there was energy on the sideline. We just have to play like that every week. We won the game, so we have to enjoy it and show our guys that it is a lot fun to win.”
BYU incorporated “Jump Around” into its post-game locker room celebration, which also included a solo dance by Sitake that the Cougars put out on social media and was trending, as well as being shown in ESPN’s SportsCenter.
The win was a payoff in a way for BYU, who worked hard coming into 2018 to get back to having fun playing football. That was certainly evident against the Badgers.
“We had a lot of belief as a group,” Cougar senior quarterback Tanner Mangum said. “We had an awesome opportunity to come to Camp Randall Stadium and play an awesome team, but we just believed. We’ve fought through ups and downs, so I think we all said, ‘Let’s go have some fun, let’s go play our heart out.’ I love playing that way, with that type of belief and mentality.”
There is no doubt that executing at a high level makes it much easier to enjoy the game.
One of the most electrifying successes is when a team rolls out a trick play and executes it to perfection.
That was the case for the Cougars in the first half of a 7-7 battle as they called a play they installed on the Monday before the game, one called “Bucky” after the Wisconsin mascot.
Sitake said that he loves being aggressive with high-risk, high-reward decisions.
“I like trick plays and that kind of stuff,” Sitake said. “I like going for it on fourth down and everything. If we were going to practice it, we better call it. When you call it, the players have a lot confidence, even if it doesn’t work.”
When the call went in and the Cougars got set, Hifo saw that it was developing perfectly.
“When I caught the smoke screen, I knew the defensive end was going to fly towards me,” BYU sophomore wide receiver Aleva Hifo said. “We were hoping that No. 14 (senior defensive back D’Cota Dixon) would bite on the smoke screen. Right when I caught the ball, I saw Moroni running free. It worked out pretty well.”
The backwards pass from BYU senior quarterback to Hifo, then Hifo’s throw down the field to a wide-open senior tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau for the 31-yard touchdown ended up being flawless.
“It’s all a credit to the coaches for seeing something like that, putting it in and trusting us to run it,” Hifo said. “We told Moroni to sell it and act like he was blocking, but all week Moroni was a bad actor so we weren’t quite sure how it was going to work out. It worked out pretty well for us.”
Hifo and Mangum both joked that after that pass Hifo might look at a position change.
“I told Tanner that I’m coming for his job,” Hifo said with a grin. “I’m 1-for-1 right now.”
That trick play gave the Cougars the lead and the visitors never trailed again, leading to the big celebration after the win.
But while it was the first time since 1984 that BYU defeated an Associated Press Top 10-ranked team on the road, the Cougars also didn’t blow the upset out of proportion.
“It feels good,” Cougar senior linebacker Sione Takitaki said. “The coaches kept telling everyone to believe. The leaders kept telling the guys, ‘just believe.’ I feel like it’s a big win. I’m at a loss for words.”
BYU might not have won if Wisconsin senior kicker Rafael Gaglianone hadn’t missed his 42-yard field goal attempt in the final minute, but even with the euphoria of victory, in the post-game press conference just minutes after the conclusion of the contest Sitake expressed his sympathy for Gaglianone.
“Their kicker works hard too,” Sitake said. “It’s unfortunate someone has to make a mistake. We made plenty of them, including missing a field goal too, but it’s tough that it comes down to that for that young man.”
Some Cougar fans have expressed frustration that in their view, since BYU doesn’t play for a conference championship, there is nothing to play for after the first defeat.
These Cougar players proved Saturday that it plays every week because they thrive with the challenge of competition and enjoys playing the game they love so much.
“I think mentally it does no good to look too far ahead or too far behind,” Mangum said. “I’ve learned the importance of staying in the moment and enjoying what we have going on right now. That’s applicable during the game. I take it one play at a time. That’s how you have to approach it. By staying present, you are able to put your best effort forth on that play. That’s how I feel with my career as well, that I’m just going to enjoy it one game at a time.”