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PROVO — As the BYU football team begins the final third of the season, the state of the program has a familiar stench to it.
Recollections of the nightmarish 2017 season, in which the feeble Cougars posted the program's worst record (4-9) in decades, come to mind when evaluating this year's team. At 4-4, BYU is mired in a three-game losing streak and looking worse with each successive game.
While there is still time to go a respectable 8-4, the prospects don't appear promising. The current state of the team indicates the only sure win is against Utah Tech, which stands at 1-6.
Losing to American Athletic Conference member East Carolina, which is 5-3, could put BYU's bowl eligibility in serious jeopardy. Road games with Boise State and Stanford, which looked like probable wins early in the season when both teams were struggling and nationally ranked BYU was 4-1, no longer are potential gimme's.
As with the 2017 team, this year's squad has all sorts of deficiencies. Every aspect of the team, right down to what should be routine extra points, has struggled mightily and, at times, been downright embarrassing.
In particular, the defense has offered little resistance in the last two losses against Arkansas and Liberty, respectively. Both teams collectively amassed a staggering total of 1,191 yards and 96 points against the woeful Cougars.
Previously respectable, the offense scored 14 points in the first quarter against Liberty and then flamed out with zero over the final 45 minutes. An ineffective running game has intensified the pressure on quarterback Jaren Hall, who has been playing through a significant shoulder injury.
All in all, right now the program is a mess, which is the actual word coach Kalani Sitake used to describe the situation. Rightly so, his assessment spares no one.
"I'm going to ask the guys to coach their position better and hold everybody accountable and ask the players to hold each other accountable," Sitake said after the 41-14 loss to Liberty. "I look forward to seeing who wants to come out of this mess. It's an easy filter for me — see who wants to join the fight and who wants to not be a part of it. We'll get through it."
Some may not get the chance to fight, meaning Sitake could face tough decisions in the coming weeks. Last time the program bottomed out he wasted no time firing offensive coordinator Ty Detmer and the staff on offense the first Monday after the horrendous 2017 season ended.
Detmer's offense five years ago rivals the ineptitude of this season's defense, which has been led by Ilaisa Tuiaki. Unlike with Detmer, who had not coached with Sitake until joining his first staff in 2016, Tuiaki coached alongside his boss at Utah and Oregon State.
Firing a longtime friend might be more difficult than letting go of Detmer, who wasn't hired by Sitake. But ultimately, though, on-field results determine job security.
Having never fired an assistant during the season, Sitake will change assignments as necessary. In what was essentially a demotion, he took over calling the plays and re-assigned Tuiaki to coach the defensive line after Arkansas scored 52 points and gained 644 yards to Arkansas two weeks ago.
Sitake downplayed the changes, saying, "As a defensive staff we work together on game planning and everything," but they were noteworthy even if it made little difference against Liberty. Three years ago, assistant coach Aaron Roderick took over the play-calling from then-offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes midway through the season.
"We can really become better because of this," Sitake said, "and I think it's going to make our program even better. That's the approach I have on it. We're going through some tough times right now. What tough times does is it exposes a lot of things, and not all of it is negative."