COUGAR TRACKS

BYU’s Upset Loss To UAB Is Tough Ending For Memorable Season

Dec 18, 2021, 11:51 PM
BYU Football - Kalani Sitake...
Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake, center, walks off the field as BYU falls to UAB in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021. UAB won 31-28. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

SHREVEPORT, La. – BYU football is the latest example of an unmotivated team getting losing in a bowl game to an underdog.

The 2021 Independence Bowl saw BYU fall to UAB 31-28 in a sleet-filled Independence Stadium with a paid attendance of 26,276, but the in-person attendance was 10,000 at best.

It was a strange stage for a BYU team that experienced the highs of becoming a Top-10 team after a 5-0 start. But that’s life as an FBS Independent. Games like the Independence Bowl will become a thing of the past for BYU in the Big 12 Conference beginning in 2023. Regardless of the bright future, Saturday’s loss put a damper on BYU’s memorable 2021 season.

A wave of injuries to BYU on defense proved the depth still needs to ramp up before entering the Big 12. Defensive end Tyler Batty is a foundational piece, but he’s only one man. Injuries to Keenan Pili, Payton Wilgar, Chaz Ah You, Jakob Robinson, and a life-threatening injury to Keenan Ellis in week one were far too much for BYU’s defense to overcome.

Maybe it was a blessing in disguise for BYU that they were overlooked by the Playoff Committee for the New Year’s Six. If BYU struggled as much as they did with UAB, one could only imagine the Cougars’ struggles against a top-12 team.

UAB had an offensive attack that was methodical, patient, and it worked for them down the stretch as their final two scoring drives consisted of an 11-play drive and then 15-plays. Plus, after recovering a Samson Nacua fumble, the Blazers put a bow on the game with a nine-play drive to ice it away.

The depth that put eventual Pac-12 Champion Utah back in September on its heels was nowhere to be found in Shreveport. Fans won’t forget those memorable games against Utah, Arizona State, and Utah State. But they feel like a distant memory after the challenges BYU faced in the final month of the season.

BYU coach Kalani Sitake was never worried about the outcome of the Independence Bowl; he just wanted his team to play their best. But, unfortunately, the best outing didn’t happen, so now this will have to motivate BYU moving forward.

BYU football never played a full 60 minutes

“I feel like this entire season; when you’re looking at who we played, it was difficult because I don’t know if we ever put together 60 minutes together as a team, and that’s my job as a coach. But in this game, I do give a lot of credit to the opponents that we played. And we had a lot of young guys step up and make plays. We have some depth. But when you stuff like that I feel like it diminishes the team’s efforts in there. They played a physical style of game plan. I have to find ways to get better and that starts with me as the head coach, and then we’ll go from there. Once the season is done, I have to evaluate everything. Find ways to get better as a program and we did that last year. We just didn’t with a win in the bowl game this year. We just lost and so hopefully we get our guys hungry. That would be key for us.”

Despite the setback, 2021 will be looked upon in high regard with the six victories over Power Five teams and a record-setting season from one of BYU’s greatest running backs in Tyler Allgeier.

This all came in a year where BYU was in the bottom five nationally for returning production. After losing Zach Wilson and four other NFL Draft picks, very few expected much from BYU in 2021. It was a successful year.

But the setback against UAB shows that you have to respect the game at all times and bring your best effort. Because if you don’t, BYU is still a program, even with its new Power 5 status, that can be beaten by a team with fewer resources. So bouncing back and not letting the loss slow down the momentum will be the next task for Sitake’s program.

“If we choose to,” said Sitake on if the UAB loss will slow down BYU’s momentum they’ve been building. “The momentum is caused by us. We have to keep the momentum rolling. That’s my choice as the head coach and that’s what the rest of the guys have. This is a step backward; I get it. But nobody likes to lose. We’re going to learn. I promise we will learn from this and we’ll be a better team because of it.”

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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