Steve Griffin, Deseret News
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (11) fires a pass late in the fourth quarter of the Utah State versus BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

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Dick Harmon: In this edition of Cougar Insiders podcast, we're gonna be talking about the loss of BYU to Utah State. We're going to break down the upcoming game of BYU playing the University of Hawaii in Edwards Stadium. We're going to talk about the quarterback situation. Tanner Mangum — is he going to hold on to his job? And then as a final tribute in the end, we're going to talk and pay tribute to Paul James, a legendary broadcaster who passed away this past week. That and more in this edition of Cougar Insider podcast.

Welcome to the Cougar Insiders podcast. I'm Dick Harmon, columnist for the Deseret News, along with the writers Jeff Call and Brandon Gurney. We're coming to you from Thanksgiving Point. And we're talking BYU sports. And gentlemen, as we sit here, we witnessed a second loss in a row by BYU's football team, this time to in-state rival Utah State. My take on this, and I predicted it in the paper, not here in the podcast, that they would lose to Utah State. Short week, four or five days, probably three-and-a-half days to prepare for the Aggies. And the Aggies had two weeks to prepare and get healthy. I could see this coming down the pike, but it was a blow to the fans, program, the players. Very disappointing performance. Jeff Call this thing turned out to be 21 to nothing right early.

Jeff Call: Yeah, it was like the Washington game before that. Down 21-zip in the first half and very difficult to come back from a hole like that. And I think Utah State, you know going into this game you thought OK, Utah State's put up a lot of points, they've got a lot of confidence, and BYU can't afford to get down and that's exactly what happened. I mean, they got down, the pick-six was a backbreaker, and you know they had a chance to put some points on the board early and then they threw that pick-six — changed the whole complexion of the game. So BYU's got to go back to the drawing board again and they've got to figure out some way to deal with the problems they have and try to get something going against Hawaii.

DH: Brandon Gurney, I think the energy level's been down by this football team. Two losses will do that, three long road trips into Power Five conference territories might do that, being out of shape might do that, I don't know. But we've seen two opposing quarterbacks stand there, not be challenged, not be pressured, and throw the ball on BYU's defense and it hasn't held up. And you gotta wonder, is this a scheme thing, is a talent problem, is it an injury problem, is it a philosophical thing that they're protecting the offense that's kind of struggling and they don't want to get out of kilter and playing a little bit defensive on both sides of the ball. But there's no explosion. There's no real fight in this team, it seems like the last two weeks.

Brandon Gurney: One thing that I always hold in mind — No one likes to talk about this, but I think the challenges of independence involved — what exactly are you playing for? And what are you motivated for during October and November? You have this front-loaded schedule. Yes, we're going to compete, we're going to be in the national championship. Oh, we lost well, what do we play for? You talk to the players, they believe they're motivated and all that, but I really wonder about the narrative of a season in independence, how it implements just continued progress and all that and motivation. I really question that because I think a variable we've seen with every season in independence, BYU's typically not playing its best ball toward the end of the season. There might be some seasons where that's been the case, but definitely under Kalani Sitake you've seen a decline. And that's not the only factor, I think the big factor this year is I think teams have really figured out what BYU's doing. You have a team, Washington, who's a top 10 team in the country, maybe even top five, and Utah State who had two weeks of preparation and a heck of a lot of motivation. So the adjustment thing is what you wonder about. Like you said, there's no margin for error with his team. They throw an interception and it just steamrolls. BYU — they forced Utah State to a three and out, they were driving, and then that interception and then just steamrolled. And Kalani talked a lot about adjustments. Football's all about adjustments. That was this quote in Monday's press conference. We're not seeing those adjustments. What was BYU doing defensively? I mean, the halftime adjustments weren't there. That's when Utah State really hit its stride. That's when they basically won the game. That game was still in question at halftime and you just wonder if they're adjusting the personnel. And the complaint you get is, oh players were just missing assignments, right? But isn't it a coach's job to put those players in situations where they can complete those assignments? I just don't buy the excuse, well if they'd just complete the assignments. I think that's part of coaching, to put them in advantageous positions where they can do that. So you question everything, just like Kalani said.

DH: A lot of times when BYU's losing, the quarterback gets the majority of the blame and the scrutiny and criticism. And you always wonder if you make a change at quarterback if that's going to be the answer. But Jeff Call, it seems that this team — it's more than the quarterback. They've had trouble tackling. They've had trouble blocking. They've had trouble moving the pile. They've had trouble with energy. They've had trouble with emotion. They've had trouble with scheme, and not to be too much of a downer, but all of those things seem to be things that can be corrected by coaches and by the players themselves.

JC: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the season in totality, you look back at the game at Madison (Wisconsin), we've talked about that quite a bit. And I was thinking the other day about the energy that BYU came into Madison with, at Camp Randall. And at the end of the third quarter they're jumping around. I mean, they believed, they had emotion. They believe they could win the game against the sixth-ranked team. And the way they played, I mean, they executed pretty well. They were very physical, and we just have not seen that the last two weeks. So you know they're capable of producing that. For some reason it's not happening.

And Brandon, to your point, I agree in principle with what you're saying about independence and trying to find something to play for. But you would think that against a team like Utah State who beat BYU pretty handily last year in Logan and being back home and with the mantra of protect Lavell's house, to come out it just not show the fire and the fight was very surprising to me.

DH: I think when Jeff Grimes came here with the new offensive staff, one of the biggest priorities that they wanted to do is to have energy when you came on the field to practice. You wanted energy and excitement and to show that, and they got that through spring practice, I believe. And they got that through the first couple of games but then it's kind of waned. Brandon has the theory that maybe being an independent is kind of wore on them and what do you play for and how do you get motivated, but I kind of got to think that if you put on a BYU uniform and a helmet and you get on the field and you've got a home crowd there that's shown up in a setting there, that's got to be motivation enough to really sell out. And this team over the last few years, Jeff Call, and you've done work on this — they have not answered the bell at home. They've played some pretty tough opponents on their home field, but they have not answered the bell at home.

JC: Yeah 3-6 the last two years, which is unbelievable to think about.

BG: Especially when you consider who they beat.

JC: Yeah. Two of those wins were Portland State and McNeese State and then the other one was San Jose State and so it's just like you know what gives here? I mean why aren't these guys getting up. We've seen much better performances on the road than we have at home and that is a mystery to me as to why that's happening.

DH: Well let's talk about the quarterback situation. Now I want two quick answers from both of you real quick and Brandon we'll start with you. Has Tanner Mangum done enough to lose his job, or has he done enough to make people question why he should be in there? Same question for you, Jeff. Go ahead.

BG: Two bad turnovers against Utah State, that's kind of what sticks out about Tanner Mangum. And is he really the guy? The best argument for Zach Wilson is just how the season's playing out and preparing for the future and all that. And I totally buy you put in Zach Wilson in that regard. I don't think Tanner Mangum's done enough to lose his job, to be honest with you. I think he's by-and-large been productive the final two games so I think he's progressing.

DH: Okay Jeff, has Tanner done enough to lose his starting job?

JC: Not necessarily but I do think we'll see Tanner start Saturday is my gut feeling. But I am expecting to see Zack Wilson fairly early in the game. I think, like Brandon said, this is time for BYU to start investing in its future. And Tanner's a senior, he's given a lot to the program. But Zach Wilson is a guy that has a lot of years left in him, and he's got to start getting his feet wet. He's got to start getting reps, he's got to start getting snaps that matter, snaps where the games on the line. He's got to get that feeling and that adrenaline to prepare him for the future. And that's really important for BYU.

DH: It'll really be interesting to see what happens. And I'm with you, Jeff. I think that they're going to start Tanner. But if they need a spark, if they need to changeup maybe to help the team, they might experiment with bringing in Zach in a meaningful way. They're going to be playing against the University of Hawaii this Saturday night, Edwards Stadium, and that game will be seen on ESPN2. So it's going to be a national audience. And once again, BYU'll be at home with a big challenge ahead of it. The rest of the story segment right now, Brandon Gurney, what have you got for us?

BG: I think the really surprising thing to me about Utah State was just how they were able to control the line of scrimmage. And I think the front seven play against the Aggies was just surprising to me. And I point mostly at linebacker play. What's happened to Adam Pulsipher, how come he's not playing? I think he acquitted himself nicely in favor of Butch Pau'u. Something's wrong with Butch. I mean when he goes in he's just not looking like the guy. I don't know if there's an injury issue beyond his thumb?

DH: He is injured. I think it's also a speed problem — he's not quick enough to do what they want him to do. It's a performance thing because of speed.

BG: Yeah and Kalani says (Sione) Takitaki's most natural position is middle backer, but I kind of wonder if that's your best three guys. The linebacker play was outstanding through the first four games and where's it gone? I mean we saw Utah State just gash them, absolutely gash them. Just slow developing plays going off tackle, and where were the linebackers? They were nowhere. It's a surprising development and I think the middle backer concern is a big concern. I wonder what the best three alignment is, I don't know what's going on with Butch, but it seemed to me that Takitaki was far more effective at outside backer, and then you put in the pass rush component that's even compounded. BYU's lack of a pass rush is just amazing. I mean have you seen a quarterback more comfortable than Jordan Love? Holy cow? I mean wow they're rushing four again, OK great.

DH: That's going to lead us into our next segment and that is, you know, things that we've seen on social media and boy (Ilaisa) Tuiaki has taken a beating because of these things we're talking about right now — no pressure on the quarterback. Every time we talked to Kalani Sitake and he about it they're trying to protect against the run, they're trying to protect against RPO, they're trying to protect against the option-type things that they have to nail down first before they worry about pressuring the quarterback. Tuiaki said that they blitzed six times in the last game. I can't really remember too many of those because they weren't effective, but back in the day Bronco Mendenhall used to bring heat 70 percent of the time. Jeff Call.

JC: Yeah, that's been a glaring thing last couple years that way. And then the other thing about the Utah State game is, I mean, so many missed tackles. I don't remember last time I've seen so many missed tackles in a game and for Utah State to run for 223 yards at Lavell Edwards Stadium is a stunner.

DH: What is it that gets into a missed tackle? Is it being lazy, is it being technically unsound, is it being unsure, unconfident, being late, is it being out of position? Is that all of these things? Those coaches have to figure this out, Brandon Gurney, because you can't play football and not tackle.

BG: I wonder about the angles and I go back to Takitaki playing middle backer. Yeah he's a phenomenal athlete, can do a lot of things, but it's a totally different game when you're playing middle backer as opposed outside. I just wonder if he has the angle concepts down and the feel necessary to be productive in that position. I believe that BYU's best linebacking unit has proven to be Adam Pulsipher at middle backer and Takitaki and (Zayne) Anderson at the outside linebackers. Matt Hadley's been fine substituting but I just wonder what's happened to Adam Pulsipher. I don't remember him seeing many reps at all against Utah State.

JC: And I think Zayne Anderson obviously came back, but I don't think he's fully healthy. He just didn't look the same.

DH: His injury is the shoulder energy, for a linebacker that's making tackles shoulder injuries are very tender and they've tried to protect him as much as they could, but they need him on the field. This week coming up against the University of Hawaii, a 6-1 team, a team that's explosive, one of the top passing offenses in the country. A quarterback, their starter, who didn't play against Wyoming last week. One of the best passers in the country. They are explosive, they can put points on the board, they can do what Utah State did. What do we know about Hawaii, Jeff Call and Brandon Gurney? How do you break it down?

JC: Well Hawaii's quarterback, Cole McDonald, is a guy that I asked Dylan Collie about this yesterday, about him specifically, because obviously he knows him from playing with him. And it sounds like Cole McDonald's a guy that just gets coach Nick Rolovich's system, he understands it. He's had a couple years to learn the system, to process it. So now he's on the field and he's doing the things that they want him to do. And I think BYU fans especially know about the system that June Jones and Nick Rolovich ran years ago when they put 72 points up on BYU in the islands, spoiling that great season in 2001. So now they've got a guy that can really execute it and he's got some good weapons. (John) Ursua is very dangerous. Kalani Sitake yesterday called him scary. I mean, he's already caught, like, I can't remember how many passes but 800 yards in passing already. So it's a dangerous offense, another explosive offense for BYU. And the question is will Cole McDonald play or not. He's had a knee injury and we still don't know yet. But if he is on the field, it's going to be a very stiff challenge for BYU.

DH: There's always this, and I've covered the BYU football for 43 years, I've been to Hawaii probably 30 times covering basketball and football, I've seen them come over to the mainland, Brandon Gurney, and generally speaking, and it holds up true is that Hawaii doesn't play very well when they come over this five-, six-hour difference of time and we're over here.

BG: Yeah, if you're going to have the home field advantage this has to be the game. This has to be the game where you're seeing that advantage come into play, which we haven't seen. So defensive back play is going to be essential against this team. You're going to see those guys tested like they haven't all year. I don't think they've really been tested by anyone so far. They're going to be tested big time.

DH: GridPicks. There's a great opportunity for you to win prizes by posting your college football predictions online. It's called GridPicks. And you can sign up at DeseretNews.com. I personally pick the 14 games each week and there are gift cards to be won. Test your knowledge and luck at DeseretNews.com. Let's have your picks gentlemen. Brandon Gurney, why don't you go first. BYU-Hawaii?

BG: Wow. All signs point to a shootout, and I question BYU's ability to win in a shootout. So I think they have to keep it relatively low scoring. I think that's the recipe for this team because I just don't believe it. BYU's going to win this game, I'm going to predict they're gonna win the game, which I've been wrong so many times this year, but I'm gonna go 31-27 BYU.

JC: I'm gonna say 24-20 for BYU.

DH: I'll take 27-21 BYU. I think that they've got to crawl out of this hole. I think that they've had a very difficult September, they've paid a price because of that in injury and attitude and energy, and I think they get it going this week.

In a final words segment, gentlemen, a legend passed this past week. Paul James, somebody that we've been acquainted with for a long, long time. I remember as a 12-, 13-year-old being in the island of Tonga and hearing his voice in a broadcast, I don't know how it bounced over the globe, over the earth, the atmosphere, but I heard his voice. I was intrigued by it and his calls and the way he did things. What a gentleman, what a friend, what a great travel partner. I've been with him all over the country, eaten dinner with him, traveled in cars and in airplanes, and he will be sorely missed. He was a legend. And he meant so much to so many people. And I just say, rest in peace, Paul James. Jeff, you had an opportunity to meet Paul?

JC: Great guy. Oh, he was awesome. And, you know, like many BYU fans and people that lived in the state for so many years, I mean, Paul James's voice was synonymous with BYU football, and big games and things like that. I mean, I remember being a young kid, you know, 9, 10 years old when my parents would put me to bed and I'd have a little transistor radio. And when BYU would play Hawaii, kick off at 10:30, I'd be under my covers, listening to Paul James call that game in Hawaii. And you know, I think I would say that he's one of the reasons why I got into the sports media business, because the way he could tell stories, the way he could engage people was just so intriguing to me. And as I got older when I was in college I lived in Holladay and Paul James lived in Holladay and I called him, I mean, this is how naive I was. I just called him and said, 'ey, I introduced myself and said, I'd like some advice. And I was expecting maybe a five-minute conversation on the phone. He invited me to his house. I went to his house, saw the garden, saw all his paintings and stuff, I was just blown away. And he sat there and entertained me for three hours. Just some kid that he didn't know. And he gave me some great advice and things like that. A few years later, one story and, Dick, you were there at the time. We were at the Great Alaska Shootout. It was Thanksgiving Day and away from the family and stuff. And Paul invited us to go eat Thanksgiving dinner at the hotel, I believe, and we're sitting there were eating turkey and mashed potatoes. I'm looking — I'm eating Thanksgiving dinner with Paul James, this is unbelievable. And he's just been always a class guy. very personable, and I just appreciate all that he's done, and rest in peace, Paul, you've been so much to BYU fans.

DH: I was lucky enough to do a couple of broadcasts with him doing color commentary. I don't know that I did a great job. But I saw a real true professional, Brandon Gurney, work. His research and the things that he had in front of him. He'd work hours and hours before a broadcast — was truly amazing.

4 comments on this story

BG: I don't have the near the experience — I don't have any experiences with Paul James. But I do have the experience of just listening to him. All through my years growing up, he was BYU football. You couldn't watch the games. That's an unbelievable concept in this day and age. But yeah, there were a lot of BYU games that you just could not watch. And you were totally dependent on Paul James, and he made it fun. And he was BYU football for a lot of people, including myself.

DH: Thanks for joining us on this episode of Cougar Insiders podcast. We'd love to hear from you through email [email protected] and please subscribe or download our podcast where you can find it. We're working to deliver you the most up-to-date information on BYU sports and love to have you join a part of our team in this broadcast. Thank you very much.