BYU Football: Observations at the Independence Bowl

Dec 18, 2021; Shreveport, LA, USA; BYU Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake gives direction during the first quarter against the UAB Blazers during the 2021 Independence Bowl at Independence Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

BYU Football didn’t seem to be fully invested on Saturday.

BYU Football lost to UAB. No matter what I write in this article, the bottom line is that UAB beat the Cougars and I have accepted that. What I am writing today isn’t a list of excuses or justifications, rather my observations as one of the few thousand fans who actually attended the game. Take what you want from my observations and make your own conclusions.

When I arrived in Shreveport about two hours before kickoff, I was shocked to see how run down the city was. While the hospitality of the people was great, the honest truth and reality was that on my way to the stadium, I saw more businesses advertising for bail bonds and legal services than I did anything else. Every business had their windows barred up and even the local jail appeared to be run down.

When I arrived to the stadium parking lot, the baseball stadium right next to stadium looked like something out of World War Z or I am Legend. Windows broken out, vines growing up the walls and graffiti all over the place.

Again, I’m not trying to bash on Shreveport, but these were my observations. This was not a destination bowl. There was no culture to make the team feel like they were wanted or being celebrated.

This did not feel like the kind of place that the No. 13 ranked team in the country should be at for a bowl game. Rather it very well have been the most run down destination that the Cougars have ever played in during the postseason or regular season.

I’ve been to games that have ranged from Vegas to Oxford and Knoxville to Dallas and I can tell you that at every one  of these games there have been thousands of fans cheering on the Cougars. Saturday was different. Although 80% of the fans seemed to be cheering for BYU, there were only maybe 5000-7000 spectators in the entire stadium and aside from a few select pockets, entire rows separated each group of fans. In fact, we (along with about 50% of the others) left our end zone seats mid way through the first quarter and watched the rest of the game right at midfield with nobody three rows in front or behind us.

I’ve seen the team take the field dozens of times and each time they run out hyped up and feeding off the crowd. Not on Saturday. They looked like a team who didn’t want to be there, but were there because of a broken system that required them be contracted into a bowl game they had no business playing in. They looked like a team that felt cheated, disrespected and unwanted.

Throw all of that on top of the fact that it was rainy and windy and the overall mood around the team and fans was about as cold as gloomy as the actual weather.

As the game began it was clear that the Cougars weren’t playing for much unlike the Blazers who had a huge opportunity ahead of them. After all, what was the end result? Beating the third best CUSA team? Getting ten seconds of highlights on Sports Center? This energy was very clear as the UAB sideline was hyped up and BYU’s was for the most part uneventful from players to coaches.

There was just no drive. After the Nacua ‘fumble’ I didn’t see one coach get into the refs face and demand a replay. And no, a replay review never happened. The ref never moved from the middle of the field the entire media timeout.

After the long UAB touchdown run with multiple blatant holds I didn’t see Sitake being held back by the coaching staff like we’ve seen him in the past. He just stood there. The players just stood there. The fans just sat there.

No drive. No motivation. Just there.

Again, in any other situation, BYU would probably be playing after Christmas near some beach or at least a large city against a team ranked in the Top 20 likely in an NFL stadium, or at least in front of 40,000 fans. Yet here they were on December 18th in a cold windy Independence Stadium in front of maybe 7,000 fans going against a team who 60% of college football fans have likely never heard of.

Throw all of that on top of the Cougars playing ten players on defense who didn’t play significantly in the first few games, a backup quarterback who couldn’t have a pass go beyond ten yards without the wind playing games, and being down a few receivers and linemen and it just didn’t have a good feel to it.

Can we really blame them for not showing up at their best?

In the end it is the job of the players and coaches to find a way to win. They didn’t do that and there may be consequences for that. It may have cost them a preseason rank in 2022 or perhaps will make the CFP Committee think twice before ranking BYU high in the Top 25 in the future.

Regardless of what happens, what was more clear to me than anything was BYU didn’t feel that they should have been there and it showed.