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PROVO — Protect LaVell’s House.
That was the motto unveiled by the BYU football team, a nod to the recent passing of legendary football coach LaVell Edwards, whose name adorns the Cougars’ home stadium, and the desire to play better at home than on the road.
Every team in college football holds such an ideal; home games are special. Your fans. Your community. Your people.
But the Cougars in 2018 have taken that attitude on the road — and it shows.
BYU’s pedestrian 4-4 record might not be broken down the way many would expect. The Cougars are just 2-3 at home, guaranteed to not have a winning record in Provo for the second-straight year with just one game remaining, while they hold a 2-1 record on the road with three road tilts left.
Is there something to a "road-field advantage" at BYU?
"I'm going to give you an honest opinion: I like playing on the road, because I think that the atmosphere is a lot better than our atmosphere at home," BYU defensive back Michael Shelton said. "I like playing at home, but sometimes our fans can be a downer and it brings us down.
"I think we feed off the energy when we play away."
The Cougars’ biggest results have come on the road — a win at Arizona in the 2018 opener, for example, and a stunning 24-21 victory against then-No. 6 Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium.
BYU was booed and derided in both games.
And the players absolutely loved it.
"That's what I mean by feeding off the energy at away stadiums. We feed off that, and it gives us something to look forward to," Shelton said. "When we’re home, we don’t get many cheers and we don’t get many boos. What are you really playing for?"
On the flip side, some of the Cougars’ more head-scratching losses have come in friendlier environs — a disappointing 21-18 loss to Cal in the home opener, or an ugly 7-6 loss to Northern Illinois last Saturday, for example.
That loss to the Huskies was made more disappointing by the sparse crowd, an announced crowd of 51,084 that was late to arrive, early to lead, and many of whom — particularly in BYU’s "Roar of Cougars" student section — coming dressed as empty seats.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake won’t tell anyone how to be a fan. Long before he was a coach or starting fullback in Provo, he was one of them — peering through the knotholes as a small child and rushing the field after big wins against rival Utah.
"I love the fans. I appreciate everything they do," Sitake said Saturday after the loss to NIU. "We have great support, but we need to do better on the field. I’d like to see all of our fans be happier. I’m disappointed that we haven’t had the success at home that we need to."
"My job is to turn the boos into cheers. I don't tell the fans how to act or behave I just love the fact that they are there. I love the BYU fans, I love that they care."@kalanifsitake#SitakeShow#BYUfootball— BYUtv Sports (@byutvsports) October 31, 2018
Sitake elaborated during his coaches' show Tuesday night on BYUtv and KSL Newsradio.
"My job is to turn the boos into cheers," Sitake said. "I don't tell the fans how to act or behave I just love the fact that they are there. I love the BYU fans, I love that they care."
The numbers will rise as more success comes, Sitake believes. Give the fans a reason to come through the gate, and a reason to stick around until the end.
"I'm not concerned about the numbers," Sitake said. "My job is to make all the fans happy, and I aim to do that. Frustration is a part of it; our fans really care. I love the passion they have for the game, and I look forward to making it better in the last few months."
BYU’s latest road challenge is its biggest — Saturday at 8:15 p.m. MT on the blue turf of Boise State (6-2) that has never lost to the Cougars at home.
But the Cougars have been in tough spots on the road before. Can they rise to the occasion again?
"I think this team likes challenges, and we’ve had some his year and have done well with them," Shelton said. "I forgot who we were playing against, and I think that’s how we do well against it."