BYU football: Getting to East Coast games 2 days early has been beneficial for the Cougars

Much of the pregame narrative for the BYU football team’s season opener in South Florida on Saturday has revolved around what the weather will be like and how the Cougars will adjust to the heat and humidity of Tampa to late summer.

Coach Kalani Sitake joked Monday that maybe legendary BYU coach LaVell Edwards could control the weather, but he can’t.

However, there is one thing that Sitake can control, and that is how the Cougars can be acclimated to not only the weather, but also the two-hour time change.

Since taking over the program in 2016, Sitake has successfully petitioned BYU administration to allow the Cougars to fly to games in the Eastern time zone two days before kickoff. The Cougars’ results on the field have been noticeably better.

Before the Sitake era began in 2016, BYU was 8-17 when playing in the Eastern time zone. Two of those games were bowl games when the team arrived four or five days before game time: a 10-7 loss to Ohio State in 1985 and a 55-48 2OT loss to Memphis at Miami in 2014.

BYU is 7-5 in Eastern time zone games under Sitake, most recently defeating Georgia Southern 34-17 in Statesboro, Georgia, last November. Two years ago, BYU defeated Navy 55-3 in Annapolis after traveling to Maryland two days before kickoff.

The Cougars lost to Coastal Carolina near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in 2021, but for that game the Cougars traveled the day before the game because it was prepared only a day before.

Sitake told the Deseret News on Monday that he’s grateful to BYU leaders for footing the bill for the extra night’s lodging, which obviously isn’t cheap.

“I mean, it’s always hard to go a couple of time zones away and adjust to the weather,” Sitake said. “I think that will always be part of the game, part of the preparation.”

Sitake brought the practice of traveling to the East Coast 48 hours before the start of his days in Utah. Players say it’s just another sign of how much the coach stands behind them.

“I think it helps. You go out and relax a little bit and adjust to that time zone. I think it’s very beneficial to go out two days early (because) you go out and there are limited distractions.” — BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar

“I think it helps. You go out there and you can relax a little bit and adjust to that time zone,” linebacker Payton Wilgar said. “I think it’s very beneficial to go out two days early (because) you go out and there are limited distractions. You get into the hotel with the guys and you can really focus and get ready for the game.”

Three years ago, the plan didn’t work out so well. The Cougars lost at Toledo 28-21 on September 28, 2019 and lost star quarterback Zach Wilson in the game with a broken hand. Two weeks later, they returned to the Eastern time zone, again making the trip two days before kickoff and losing 27-23 to South Florida.

Not coincidentally, Jaren Hall made his first college start in that game on Oct. 12, 2019, in Tampa, but suffered a concussion and was unable to finish. Third player Baylor Romney led BYU into USF territory late in the game, but the Cougars couldn’t get the ball into the end zone.

Hall downplayed the payback factor, but not the benefits of traveling early.

“Yes, it’s very beneficial, just with the time change,” Hall said. “You have a couple of extra hours to rest a little bit, and you practice further out there in the weather, and you can adjust a little bit.”

Hall and his wife have a baby, Jayda, but he said sleeping an extra night away from the 14-month-old isn’t an added benefit.

“He sleeps about 15 hours a night,” Hall said. “So my wife and I get enough sleep.”

More than anything, Hall said she will miss her daughter on those two nights.

“It’s probably not your typical new mom or dad response, but that’s the truth,” Hall said.

As for the weather and expected rain, Hall said he’s not worried.

“We’ll do our wet ball drills, practice shooting,” he said. “We will make sure we are prepared for all of that. When it comes to game time, you can’t control any of that. You just have to go and play ball, make plays.”

For BYU preseason All-America offensive lineman Clark Barrington, trips to the East Coast mean more bonding time with his brother, offensive lineman Campbell Barrington. The brothers were roommates on every BYU road trip last year, and the fifth-year student assumes it will be the same in 2022.

“It’s good,” said Clark Barrington. “We shared a room growing up, so it’s like we’re doing it all over again.”

Clark Barrington said BYU staff, from coaches to sports scientists to nutritionists, have done a good job preparing the team for the time change and weather.

“It’s different wherever you go,” he said. “The time change, the weather change, whatever.”

In mid-October, the Cougars will do it all over again, traveling to Virginia for a matchup with fellow independent Liberty. Of course, when they join the Big 12 next year, there’s a chance they’ll travel to West Virginia, Central Florida and/or Cincinnati.

Last year, Sitake recalled his days as a BYU player when the Cougars made three trips to the East Coast in the space of about six weeks. In Edwards’ final season, 2000, the Cougars logged 10,874 miles. They lost to Florida State in Jacksonville 29-3, beat Virginia 38-35 in overtime in Charlottesville, then fell to Syracuse in New York, losing 42-14.

In those games, the Cougars flew the day before the game and Sitake thinks it showed.

“We know more now than when I was a player,” he said. “So using the data is important, and having people you trust who say, ‘Okay, this is a smart move,’ is important.”

Sitake said preparing for the game itself, and not just the travel arrangements, has been a summer effort.

“We’ve been weighing the guys before and after every practice so we know how to refuel them along the way,” he said. “We will do the same things during the game. I don’t have all the answers, but other people do. And I’m okay with letting you guys give us your experience and your feedback and I see that helps our players so far. So hopefully this will help us to be 1-0 in 2022. That’s all I’m focused on.”


BYU players place the American flag on the field before the start of a game against South Florida on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Provo, Utah. The Cougars and Bulls will meet again on Saturday, although this time in Tampa.

George Frey, Associated Press

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