Cougars enter another week with the starting QB question unanswered


A day after BYU knocked off Stanford 35-26 last season, Cougars football coach Kalani Sitake made the moves that nearly everybody saw coming, firing defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki and almost the entire defensive staff.

Sitake made the tough decisions even though BYU was heading to a bowl game and the season wasn’t truly over.

“My focus is on getting this game going, and all our attention and our focus has to be on this game. Immediately after the game and after the season I am always evaluating what we can improve. I look at myself first. And then we look at other things.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake when asked if he’s happy with performances of his coordinators and assistant coaches in 2023

Could more coaching changes be coming this year, after 5-6 BYU plays at No. 21 Oklahoma State this Saturday (1:30 p.m. MST, ABC) in Stillwater, Oklahoma?

Asked that question during his weekly press briefing Monday, Sitake declined a yes or no answer, which wasn’t a surprise.

“My focus is on getting this game going, and all our attention and our focus has to be on this game,” Sitake said. “Immediately after the game and after the season I am always evaluating what we can improve. I look at myself first. And then we look at other things.”

Sitake obviously isn’t going to change his defensive coordinator, after hiring Jay Hill away from Weber State last December to replace Tuiaki. And nothing has been said by him all season to indicate that he’s unhappy with the performance of offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick.

But there are some position coaches who have come under fire because their position groups have underperformed, most notably offensive line coach Darrell Funk, who has had that assignment since February 2021, when Jeff Grimes and Eric Mateos headed off to Baylor.

“I am under the obligation to the players on our team and to the fans to do the right things. That’s why they put me here as the head coach and sometimes the decisions are difficult. Sometimes they are pretty easy,” Sitake said, responding to a part of the question about whether he’s happy with coaching performances.

“So right now my focus is completely on the team and the season. The season still has one more week. That is what we are going to be focused on, then we will decide after that, right after the game is done, what we are going to do.”

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, BYU’s offensive line had arguably its best game of the season in last Saturday’s 31-24 loss to No. 14 Oklahoma. The Cougars rushed for a season-high 217 yards and quarterback Jake Retzlaff was sacked just once.

Yes, that sack resulted in a fumble on the BYU 25 that set up OU’s go-ahead touchdown with 7:57 remaining in the game, Gavin Sawchuk’s 16-yard run, but otherwise Retzlaff wasn’t running for his life like he did against West Virginia and Iowa State.

Prized transfer portal acquisition Aidan Robbins finally showed why he was so coveted, running for 182 yards on 22 carries. Offensive lineman Connor Pay said it was a matter of all 11 offensive players contributing and not making key mistakes, a malady that has plagued the offense most of the season.

“I think the guys have been a lot more assignment sound,” Sitake said. “We are not missing on as many blocks as we have in the past, for whatever reason. I think there are a lot of factors that go into it, (like) Aidan being healthy and having all the backs available.”

Retzlaff ran for 59 yards before losses were taken out of his net yards, and Deion Smith and LJ Martin got a couple of touches as well.

“The quarterback making the right reads and pulling and running or pulling and throwing (contributed),” Sitake said. “I think those are all factors that play into it. I am glad that the guys are playing better and getting more production with yards and things like that. Just for me, I would like to see more points on the board and less mistakes and less turnovers.”

Which brings us to another question: Who will start against the Cowboys, the junior Retzlaff or the more experienced, but less mobile, Kedon Slovis?

Not surprisingly, Sitake isn’t showing his hand, at least not this early in the week.

“I think going into this week, it is (about) who is going to help us put points on the board, extend drives, convert first downs. That’s what the goal is going to be,” Sitake said. “Kedon hasn’t been healthy. He has been practicing. They have been competing against each other. Whoever gives us the best chance (to win) will be the guy taking the first snap.”

The coach hinted that both could play.

“There are a bunch of guys on the team that aren’t 100%. But maybe 90% gets it done. We settle it on the field. That’s where we do it,” Sitake said. “We settle the competition and who plays the best by what we do on the field. … That is the only way I know how to do it.”

BYU’s practice schedule will be altered this week slightly so players and coaches can observe Thanksgiving. They will practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon, like usual, and have a team meal together Wednesday night after practice.

They will practice Thursday morning so players who have family in the area can enjoy the holiday with them in the afternoon and evening. Coaches and some players’ families who live in the area will open their homes to out-of-state players.

The Cougars will fly to Stillwater on Friday afternoon.

BYU cornerback Eddie Heckard hits Oklahoma Sooners receiver Drake Stoops during a game at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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