BYU Football: Takeaways from the loss to Northern Illinois

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

BYU Football suffered another baffling defeat, falling to Northern Illinois in a defensive struggle that the Cougar offense couldn’t overcome.

Home-field advantage has become a myth at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

BYU Football has played 11 home games since the start of the 2011 season.

They’re 4-7.

BYU’s 7-6 loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday isn’t quite on par with the horrible loss to UMass last year, but it’s pretty darn close.

The offense that finally seemed to click against Hawaii disappeared against the Huskies.

Here’s a few quick takeaways from the defensive slugfest:

Dominant Defense

Give credit to BYU’s defense. They stymied the Husky offense for all but two drives, taking advantage of Northern Illinois’ sub-par passing offense to key in on the run game.

Sione Takitaki was all over the place, and the Cougars held the Huskies to just 204 yards of total offense.

Northern Illinois made a good adjustment on the last drive of the first half, moving the ball well on the short passing game much like Cal and Utah State did.

That style worked again on the opening drive of the second half and led to the only touchdown of the game before the Cougar defense adjusted and shut them down from there on out.

Disappearing Offense

The offense was completely stymied. Sure, they managed to outrush the Huskies 93 yards to 89, but those 93 yards came on 37 rushes.

The passing game was more effective. Zach Wilson threw for 208 yards on 18/30 passing, and BYU moved the ball best when passing the ball, but offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes stubbornly refused to go away from the ground game.

When you’re averaging less than three yards per carry, there’s no reason you should ever finish the game with more rushes (37) than passes (30).

Remember the definition of insanity…

Offensive Line Woes

Northern Illinois completely dominated BYU’s offensive line, especially in the second half. The line looked very good early in the season, but since then they’ve been largely ineffective.

Freshman Miscues

Whenever you start a freshman quarterback you’re going to have ups and downs.

Wilson played a good game overall, but he did make mistakes. Northern Illinois had five sacks on Wilson, and a good chunk of those came as the freshman held onto the ball to long.

He had some errant throws, and that final interception was a killer, but those are the types of things you’re going to get as Wilson learns on the job.

That leap and stiffarm, though!

Costly Mistakes

The Cougars played a pretty clean first half, but the same can’t be said for the second half.

Let’s look at a few of the biggest ones:

  • A defensive holding on third down that gave Northern Illinois a first and goal on their lone scoring drive.
  • Two false starts on a first and goal and the four yard line.
  • Michael Shelton’s muffed punt that started a BYU drive off with horrid field position.
  • A false start on the second-to-last drive that ultimately stalled it.
  • Zach Wilson’s interception.

If you take away any one of those miscues the outcome would have likely been very different.

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Costly Decisions?

Two major decisions by Kalani Sitake stand out as questionable ones.

He elected to go for it on fourth and seven on the 35 yard line in the second quarter, rather than give Skyler Southam the chance to kick the field goal. Southam definitely has the leg for that kick, but instead BYU lost the ball on downs.

Then there’s the decision to punt on the second-to-last drive facing a fourth and four near midfield. With only three minutes left Sitake essentially put all of his eggs in one basket, banking on one final game-winning drive rather than giving the offense two shots to move the ball.

Yes, hindsight is 20-20, but both of those decisions looked just as dicey at the time as they do now.


Early in the season the coaching staff took risks, using trick plays and playing aggressive football.

That’s gone now. There were no trick plays, very few shots downfield, and the team looked like one that was afraid to lose rather than one that wanted to win.

And that’s how you lose games 7-6.