SALT LAKE CITY — Now more than ever, given the revamped schedule, Kalani Sitake needs to have a breakout season to solidify his status as BYU football’s head coach.
Since going 9-4 with a roster largely comprised of the previous coaching staff’s recruits, Sitake’s teams have muddled along in a malaise of inconsistency as the 18-21 record the last three years has proven. Even with the contract extension he got last season, more disappointment this year could lead to changes.
Off of one week, by virtue of the dominating performance over Navy, Sitake has the Cougars headed toward an outstanding season. The 55-3 win before a national television audience on Labor Day in Maryland ranks with the program’s most impressive since Sitake succeeded Bronco Mendenhall after the 2015 season.
Since laboring to a horrendous 4-9 season in 2017, BYU has struggled to find an identity. The only fact taken from the program the last four years is that at least it could be respectable with Mendenhall’s recruits.
A former bruising fullback as a player at BYU and a longtime defensive coordinator at Utah and Oregon State, Sitake has wanted to build a tough, physical program patterned after Kyle Whittingham’s teams at Utah. His desire materialized against the Midshipmen.
"Our guys, they played out of their minds," Sitake said.
BYU’s interior controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball right from the start. Indicative of the final score, BYU’s offense rolled up 580 yards of total offense and held Navy to 149 yards
Maybe BYU is finally on to something.
"I don’t know if you can define everything from one game," Sitake said. "I don’t like to define by one game the previous four years as the coach. I just like to build on this."
While future opponents may not roll over as easily as Navy did, the Cougars displayed their level of physicality is legitimate. The offensive line and front seven on defense are comprised mostly of upperclassmen with extensive experience.
Considering the opponent, Sitake has to be especially pleased with the offensive line that opened huge lanes for the running backs to scamper through. Navy had to replace sensational option quarterback Malcolm Perry, leading to an expected drop in production, but the defense was supposed to be the team’s strong unit.
"The first game is so important, getting off on the right foot and for the confidence for your team," said offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.
With the Cougars obviously controlling the game, ESPN’s lead college football broadcast crew of Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler began to discuss the possibility of them going undefeated through the new regular season. Anticipating a potential 8-0 record, in part due to BYU’s dominance and a watered-down schedule, only adds the pressure on Sitake to produce success.
Before the coronavirus forced athletic director Tom Holmoe to overhaul the schedule, BYU was set to play six Power Five opponents in addition to Utah State, Boise State and San Diego State. With the possibility of at least two more opponents to be added, now the Cougars don’t play any Power Five opponents and are likely to be favored in virtually every game.
But this is the program with mostly the same players from last year that beat the likes of USC, Tennessee and Boise State only to lose to Toledo, South Florida and Hawaii. In many ways, the inconsistent performances have been BYU’s hallmark in recent seasons.
Keep in mind, though, consistent winning at BYU has never more difficult since LaVell Edwards created a dynasty starting nearly 50 years ago. For several reasons, the program hasn’t won at least 10 games since 2011, the longest streak since Edwards' reached double figures for the first time in BYU history in 1979.