With the Cougars and their fans still smarting from the way things ended against Boise State, Cougar Insiders Jeff Call, Dick Harmon and Brandon Gurney break down the game’s final series — in particular the final play — and hear from offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes about where things went awry. They’ll also look ahead to this week’s game against UMass, talk BYU basketball and the Cougars’ opener against No. 7 Nevada, and discuss what hot BYU recruits to have on the radar during this week’s high school football semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Dick Harmon: Hey welcome to the Cougar Insiders podcast. I'm Dick Harmon, columnist for the Deseret News along with beat writers Jeff Call and Brandon Gurney. We are coming to you from Thanksgiving Point and we're talking BYU sports. This podcast is brought to you by the Salt Lake Stallions and GridPicks and gentlemen, we just got through seeing a very exciting ballgame. It was made for TV, it went right down to the last wire. Unfortunately for BYU fans, it was a loss and it was a painful loss. It's a loss that brought out a lot of ire on the coaching staff at BYU for play-calling late in that game at a crucial time. But it's also a game that I don't think anybody picked BYU to win.
At Boise State — they never lose up there. BYU plays them tough but they always lose. But this game went right to the wire and for all intents and purposes, Jeff Call, BYU outplayed Boise State on their own field. They should have won this game.
Jeff Call: Yeah so you start out the game, BYU's down 14-0 and you're thinking OK this is over. I mean BYU's just going to get steamrolled. And then you know, that defense kind of rose up there in a bad situation, defending deep in their own territory, and they stopped them, preventing points. BYU was able to get back in the game and over the final three quarters — it was 14-0 after the first quarter — over the last three quarters, BYU outplayed Boise. I mean their defense was great, their offense made enough plays, they made a lot of mistakes, of course, and squandered a lot of opportunities where they could have not been in the position where they were at the end where they have to make a play on the final play of the game. But it was one of those games, we've seen this many times up there in Boise, the other trips we've been up there, they're typically pretty close games, come down to the end, and that was another one on Saturday.
DH: You know it could have been 21-0 after a fumbled kickoff return by Sione Finau. Here's a guy that hasn't even played this year, they're putting him out there on the road, under the lights and having him return kickoffs. I don't know about that decision, but I will say this, Brandon Gurney, I could be wrong, is that game was probably as well played a competitive game that BYU has had against Boise State in the Bronco Mendenhall era and the BYU Kalani Sitake era, simply from the standpoint that they should have won that game. Other ones up there, you know, they're hard-fought and they're close, they're competitive and that, but this is one they should have won, they were the better team that night. They just make too many mistakes.
Brandon Gurney: Yeah, and it's kind of frustrating looking at that, because you feel with a young team of first-year offensive staff that the things we see shouldn't be happening. But you have to put in the factor of the offense has changed a lot. They're doing a lot of different things. I mean, you talk about pass protection issues, I think you can largely chalk it up to that to some degree. But that's kind of the shocking thing is that the offensive line just isn't doing what they were doing at the first of the year. And I do think a lot of that is because of scheme and whatnot. But it's just amazing. We talked to Kalani today and he says, my worry isn't with the physical thing, it's just the mistakes and we can fix those. He's saying that at this juncture in the season, in the first week of November. And that kind of drives you crazy. But if you think about what's been going on with the offense, where they're at, yeah, there's some justification for it. And hopefully it gets fixed in the coming weeks, but I think there's a lot of positives to come out of this game.
DH: These are almost two different teams than you saw play against Wisconsin. That team was a jet sweep, power-run team. Squally Canada was running straight up the gut, they were running Aleva Hifo around the end, they were spreading people out, they were blocking it, that's what they had trained for. This is not that team now. This is an RPO team. It's out of the shotgun, they're throwing the ball downfield. Right now, if you look at it, Zach Wilson's average yards per attempt is in double figures. It's 11 and it's 12 yards per attempt. That's something that hasn't happened to BYU football for 2, 3, 4, 5 years.
BG: And at the end of the day, Zach Wilson can play. He's a guy that can do it, he's a guy that has the moxie and in his first road game — Boise is not a great defense. We know that. But playing against Boise at Boise and doing what he did? Man, there's a lot of positives coming out of that. If you have the quarterback, things tend to work out.
DH: Well, he gained 90 yards rushing. He had over 50 yards in sacks. He was sacked seven times. BYU had 109 yards in losses from sacks and tackles for losses. That's an offensive line problem. But I think people have to realize that this offensive line is missing three of the best blockers at tight end that they really utilized the first part of the season. They're not there anymore. The combo blocks have disappeared, that they had learned, some of the twists and other things they had done. Those are gone. The double-teams, they had to rebuild this for Zach Wilson. And the learning curve is something that you're seeing right now. Well, let's just talk a little bit just a break here. One of our sponsors is the Salt Lake Stallions. Guys, if you're a real fan of football in February, you're going to see football with the Salt Lake Stallions. You're going to see some local players. You can see players from the University of Utah, Utah State, BYU, they're going to be out there. It's real professional football coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah. Dennis Erickson is the head coach. I think it's going to be exciting. Season tickets are going now for as low as $75. You can call 1 833-AAF-2019 or go to SaltLakeStallions.com and see some football this winter. That's gonna be a lot of fun.
You know the coaches had an opportunity to kind of break things down after they saw the film. One of the biggest questions of the weekend is what happened on that last series of plays? Especially, you know, getting a first down. Zach Wilson, you know he ran for a first down inside the 5, got to about the 2-, 3-yard-line, and then they had 7 seconds left and an opportunity for two plays. The only got off one and it wasn't even a pass play that got tried. It was a pass play that was called. Jeff Grimes broke this down. Let's go with this cut from Jeff Grimes right now.
Jeff Grimes: Yeah, we always give the quarterback the instructions on what the situation is there. And, you know, he's a young guy that I think certainly gave us a chance to win that game. However, he makes a mistake sometimes too and he wishes he could have had that one back. That was first thing he said to me after the game, but certainly we had the intentions there of a quick throw or throw away and then another play in mind. We already have the next play in mind, as a matter of fact.
DH: That was Jeff Grimes talking about this last part of that play, courtesy of "Coordinators Corner;" we appreciate the cut. And now he was asked a question by Greg Wrubell, voice of the Cougars, about the offense. The thing that we've just been talking about, how it's changed. He explained that.
JG: I think there are a number of things. If you look at some of the things that have happened with our offense in the last three weeks, some of it good, some of it not so good. You're looking at a couple of things, obviously a change in quarterback and a change in offensive style. And that's not just due to the quarterback. And as we talked about three weeks ago, part of the reason that we had a change in quarterback is that we changed some of our offensive personnel, having lost some of our tight ends, particularly those guys who were our best three blocking tight ends. We'd lost from the summer through the Washington game and put ourselves in position where we felt like we needed a little bit different approach in terms of personnel and what we were doing with the personnel, and then the change at quarterback. Obviously, Zach has a different skill set than Tanner. I think overall our offense has evolved. And so as a coach, you can take one of two approaches, you can be stubborn and say no, this is my offense. And this is what we installed and this is what we're going to do, or you can try to fit an offense best to your personnel and put the guys in position where they can do what they do best. I think especially when you're dealing with young players, you have to do that. As we develop them, some of them can become different types of players. Maybe down the road Zach will be something different in a year or two than what he is now. As will Dallin Holker, as will Keanu (Saleapaga) and so many other guys that we're playing with right now. Those guys will be capable of more and different things. But having gone through the change that we have philosophically the last few weeks, I think we're just going through some of those growing pains. And part of that is our red zone offense. And part of its been the protection and part of its been not being efficient in the running game.
DH: Now, word from our sponsors, the Stallions. Football this winter, you can do it. You can get a hold of the Salt Lake Stallions and buy their tickets, call 1-833-AAF-2019 or go to SaltLakeStallions.com. The Rest of the Story segment. Jeff Call, what is really going on that we really haven't talked about our covered that maybe is kind of hidden behind the scenes right now?
JC: Well, BYU tips off the basketball season Tuesday against Nevada. Nevada is seventh-ranked and I think it's interesting that BYU, the way Dave Rose has scheduled this year. I mean, we saw last year with the NCAA tournament. We saw these teams like St. Mary's, lot of wins won't get in the tournament, didn't get in the tournament. And so BYU has tried to schedule in such a way that they will have some tough games, quadrant one games will help them get in the tournament come March. And right off the bat they start out with a game at Nevada. A Nevada team that went to the Sweet 16 last year, has a lot of returning players. And so we're going to see right off the bat, game 1, where this team is. And we're going to learn a lot about this team. We learned a little bit in the exhibition games. But now we're going to really see in a very hostile environment, against a very good team, where this BYU team stacks up.
DH: I'm writing a column this week, and it's on the basketball team and kicking off and I make the point that they've got to hit the 3-pointer. They've got shooters on this team, they didn't shoot very well last year. Maybe that was because of Heath Shroyer kind of putting the you know, the kibosh on that a little bit and slowing things down, being more deliberate. But, Brandon Gurney, they've got to hit the 3. That's kind of the trend in basketball, not just on video games. But in the NBA. You hit the 3-ball. You're in games and you're winning.
BG: It's really bizarre that we're talking about BYU's inability to hit a 3-pointer. I mean, it's kind of convoluted to what BYU's been through most of Dave Rose's years. I mean, if nothing else they can shoot from the perimeter. And we'll see to see how that develops. It's kind of hard to put any label on a team at this juncture. And I think I'm excited to see how they fare against Nevada. I think it's going to answer a lot of questions to where this team's at, where it needs to be, and all that. And they still have shooters, a lot of these guys, they can do it. I think last year, I think maybe you can chalk it up to an anomaly where these guys just for some reason, whether it be the offense or whatever, but I think BYU is going to prove to be a good perimeter shooting team this year.
DH: A good measuring mark is see how deep they go in the tournament in Las Vegas. And then they've got to make a real run at Gonzaga. They beaten them before up there. They beaten them, they've shown that they can, but they've got to somehow challenge them a little bit better than they have. And don't lose those games that you just scratch your head over and say, how did they lose to that team in. This conference is not that tough.
BG: They lost a Pepperdine again, Santa Clara.
JC: That's stuff that you don't see Gonzaga doing, and even St. Mary's to a great extent. You don't see these head-scratching losses to San Diego and Pepperdine and stuff like that. They've got to figure out a way to come out every night ready to go. And win those games. They should win those games.
DH: Well, 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. I send them in each week. And there are gift cards to be won. Test your knowledge and luck at DeseretNews.com.
You know, social media has really been hard on BYU's football coaching staff, from Kalani all the way down to the offensive coaching staff. The offensive coordinator, Jeff Grimes, Aaron Roderick. Grimes probably gets the majority of the criticism. Is it justified, Jeff Call?
JC: For Grimes? Well, again, you know, we kind of touched on this earlier, but the team that he's coaching right now is much different than the team he had back in August, with Tanner Mangum. And then when you factor in the injuries at tight end, I mean they're really, really thin right now at tight end. That was a position, you know, a couple months ago they were very deep and we thought man this these are guys that are going to really contribute and now most of them are gone. And I think — we don't know Matt Bushman's situation, but he's really been hampered with his shoulder and so, yeah. Who would have guessed that Matt Hadley would be your No. 1 running back? And again, the offensive line, the way they play has to change. And they're young. Most of these guys are brand new to BYU football and so, yeah, it's a different team. And so yeah, I think Jeff Grimes does deserve some criticism for some things. But again, it's like reinventing the offense you know, midway through the season. It's been tough.
DH: Brandon Gurney, the cup's kind of half full with BYU fans right now. They kind of like the youth movement. They like Zach Wilson. They're in love with him. Probably as much as Andre Ware. They really like this kid and he's really showing to be a star. But that's kind of not there because this team is losing games. But I would submit to you to this team is probably about where I thought they would be. Maybe give one game maybe a win. But this team is right where I thought it would be trying to fight for a bowl game at this part of the season. Do the coaches deserve the criticism they're getting right now?
BG: They deserve some of it. For the way they ended that game, not being able to punch it in, not throwing it, not even attempting a pass into the end zone. It's kind of hard not to question that. I mean, just like, oh it's young, they're developing, and all that. But it wasn't just that. I mean, they haven't been able to do it in the red zone for two games running now. It's kind of become a thing. And you want to see progression. And when you look at any young team, you want to see progression, you want to see marked improvement and I think the lack of consistency is just grating on these fans. They just don't know what they're going to see from week to week. We don't know what we're going to see from week to week. You like to think that that effort that you saw against Boise State, where I thought they should have won that game, to come back from a 14-point deficit in Boise and just recover like that was a good thing. But how are they going to do against UMass? Is this going to be the same team? That's kind of been what this team has been is just the lack of consistency. You don't know what's going to happen from week to week. But I think with sustained consistency, with the progress we saw in the Boise game, if that can be sustained I think it's going to work itself out.
DH: It comes down to this. If you think about this, Matt Bushman made a great one-handed catch on a double pass, that probably should have been a touchdown. They score that touchdown, they win the game, it doesn't come down to the last seconds. That's how good this team is playing, although they're making a ton of mistakes. So I think there's hope for the future. I think there are reasons to be optimistic and I don't know that all things should be you know, the sky is falling right now. This team is very, very young.
BG: That is a really good segue to an email we got from from a Jason Olson, who writes, "I just listened to this week's podcast and I had to write how I feel. I consider myself a passionate BYU fan. I have held football season tickets for about 12 years. I love BYU and all they represent, even though I'm an Arizona State graduate. I've decided that I will not renew season tickets until BYU is in a conference." He doesn't stipulate which conference, a conference.
"I am friends with about 12 others season ticket holders who will also not renew next year. We are tired of independence. We wonder why the players and fans have no excitement. I believe they have nothing to play for — no conference title. I'm tired of watching exhibition games that mean nothing. I would rather play in a conference where history between teams is created and storylines can be made for future years. I'm really concerned about the vision of the BYU athletic department. I look at their schedule that Tom Holmoe has put together over the next few years and I believe that he has overscheduled BYU. Look at 2019 — this team might go 0-8 or maybe 1-7 to start the season. Tom needs to tone down his scheduling. I don't want to play Tennessee, USC, etc. and get beat. We need to be realistic about who we are. My dream is that we would be in the Big 12 and I know political reasons will keep us out. Could BYU form a conference from parts of the Mountain West or American Conference? If not, I would prefer BYU joined the American Conference and play Central and South Florida, Houston, etc.
"Until we are in a conference I cannot renew football tickets. I refuse to watch another meaningless season of meaningless games. If BYU remains independent any longer, football at BYU will be an endangered species. My prediction for attendance at 2019 home games: average attendance close to 45,000. And that is because Utah will sell lots of tickets to our home game against them. Makes me sick. I am also disappointed in the student section. Pathetic showing by the students this year. One last thought. As I walked away from the stadium after losing to Northern Illinois, I overheard several fans saying that they can't believe that they have reached a point where they no longer care that we are losing. Their passion for BYU football is gone and they don't even care. Something has to drastically change or we risk the future of BYU football. A concerned fan, Jason."
DH: He's got some great points, but you know what changes there — and he speaks for a lot of fans — I think enthusiasm is down, passion is down. They've endured a lot, losing to your rivals, losing to Utah State. Those things are painful. But you know what cures it all? Winning. If you win games, conference doesn't matter. If you win games, exposure does matter. BYU fans love to get the adoration of the national media. You start winning games, all those things changes.
Are they in a position to do that? I'm not smart enough to tell that. But I know this — that when you beat Wisconsin, that makes the team, the fans, and the whole program elevated in a lot of ways that you can't get anywhere else. BYU, in certain terms, is a persona non grata to the Mountain West Conference and the American Conference. They got a chance to go, they were really close to going to the American Athletic Conference, but they had the stipulation that they want to be able to control their games, the rebroadcast of their games, and use their fancy truck and be on that and use BYUTV, which they've now done a tremendous amount of programming on. They don't want to give that up. So when they hit these other little small conferences about that and bring that up, the other people are saying, no, we do not want you to do that. The Mountain West Conference would say that, the American Conference would say that. They would really want to have BYU but they're not going to give BYU the sky like they may have done three or four years ago.
BG: Absolutely. And I'm not gonna bag on Jason at all for his thoughts. I think he represents a lot of fans out there. And I don't think it's unjustified that he feels that way. What you want to see is change. And I brought this up time and again. The big problem with independence is season narrative, where you front-load that schedule. Wow, we didn't do it. We're not ranked, who do we got next. Oh, we got you UMass. Who do we got after that? New Mexico State. Yay. You can't say that doesn't wear on players and that doesn't affect them. I mean, what Dick said is true. You just win games, right? But how viable is it that they're gonna win those games? And if you look at the schedule. In the best years of independence with Bronco, even if they get back to those Bronco Mendenhall-type seasons, is it really going to be enough? Is that really what you can strive for? Can they go up and over and beyond that? That's kind of hard to see. So I share a lot of the sentiments Jason has, to be honest.
DH: Yeah, Jeff Call, if they go to a Group of Five conference like the Mountain West, which I don't know that they can, that would be going backwards in my mind. Or the American Athletic Conference, which I don't think they will, because they're going to have to ask for concessions that I don't think that they'll get. But say the Big 12 was able to expand — I'm telling BYU fans right now that six wins, seven wins is going to be a regular occurrence. That's just the way it's going to be. That's what the University of Utah is playing out right now with their conference record. It's awful hard, week in and week out. So yeah, you'd be in a conference, there'd be something to look forward to. There'll be those relationships and the competition and that, but the record will not be 10 or 11 wins. Those things are generational.
JC: You're right. And I think, you know, obviously, the hope is still that BYU gets into a Power Five conference. I mean, that's what I think everyone wants to see. I think BYU is deserving of that. With their track record and their facilities, the interest in the program, but that's completely out of BYU's hands. And we're gonna have to see how that plays out. But, you know, it goes back to over the years. I mean, there's always something to complain about, right? And unless you go 13-0 every year, I mean, there's always gonna be something. I remember, back in the '80s people complained. And BYU was winning, but they were in the WAC and people are complaining that they need to get to a different conference. This has been a conversation has been going on for a long, long time. And BYU is not in a place where they want to be. And you know, I think even if BYU got in the Power Five, like you said, if they start seeing six-, seven-win seasons, you know, there's gonna be some complaining, maybe not about the conference, but something else. So it's just one of those things about college football. I mean, there's always something, people are always looking for more. And that's where that passion comes from. Jason has a lot of passion, and he does encapsulate a lot of the thoughts. I mean, I get emails all the time from fans, and it's very similar to that.
DH: That's a common theme. We know we're going to talk recruiting. But first of all, just a reminder, again, the Salt Lake Stallions are coming to town. I first met Dennis Erickson when he was the coach at the University of Wyoming. It was during the old sky-writer days when he was there, we met and talked to him, he's been all over the country as a coach, but he's coming back after a stint with University of Utah, he has been retired, but he's going to come back and coach the Stallions. And they're gonna have a professional team with a lot of Cougars, and Utes and Aggies on the team. The inaugural season begins on Feb. 23. Season tickets are now as low as $75. You can get those tickets by calling 1-833-AAF-2019 or go to SaltLakeStallions.com. Brandon Gurney, a lot of young players playing for BYU. There's some young players that have committed to BYU, and they're pretty exciting. What have you seen in the state playoffs?
BG: Do yourself a favor. You're going to see some amazing 6-A semifinal games this week, and one guy that's going to be playing, Do yourself a favor and watch Chase Roberts from American Fork. Because he is a rare talent in the state. Most years he would far and away be the best skill position player the state has, if not for Puka Nakua, who's just amazing as well. But he's from American Fork, 6-foot-4, extremely athletic. It will make you feel good about future of BYU football. But it's not just him. I've talked a lot about just how the depth of talent in this state is really really good. I watched Skyridge last week and it's amazing. Just seeing these guys without scholarship offers that I think could make for really solid players. And another guy I'd like to bring up is Pleasant Grove has a quarterback named Jake Jensen who's just been torturing guys this year. And I think he's going to be a guy ending up signing with a smaller school and BYU fans asking why didn't BYU sign this kid? I think he might prove to be one of those guys. But man I love this time of year because you see a lot of talent in the state, you see a lot of guys, and I think BYU would do well to get some back-end offers to some these kids I've seen. A guy like Ma'a Natoa for Skyridge, just a really, really good athlete, plays running back for them, doesn't have an offer. Which is really surprising to me. Another guy from Skyridge, Nathan Upham, really, really good skill receiver guy. I think Weber State and Utah State are going to clean up on a lot of these kids. And I don't think BYU would it would be a bad thing to offer a lot of these guys.
DH: Good report. If they had scholarships. They always seem to end up with about 14 or 15. A lot of these guys go on missions, come back you're saving eight of them, half your recruiting class. You can't even see for a couple of years. But Jeff Call, you've got a busy week. You're gonna go the University of Nevada, see BYU open its season against a ranked team. Then you're going to come home and go to UMass. You're going to fly all the way across the country to Boston and you're going to see the Cougars take on a team that beat them last year in Provo and that was a nail-in-the-coffin type of loss for this program. Can they, will they, are they capable of going back there and winning that game?
JC: Well yeah they're capable but with this team you'd never know. I mean we know the track record of BYU teams typically traveling to the East Coast, especially an early morning game, it's really hard. BYU's record is not very good and those types of games. I was really surprised to see BYU be a 13-point favorite in this game. It really surprised me considering it's on the road and BYU's lost four of the last five. Granted, UMass is not a great team. But, Dick you pointed out, last year they came in and they beat BYU. Shut down BYU's offense. They really went after Joe Critchlow, who was the starter in that game. And so yeah, it's going to be a tough challenge for BYU to go out there. And UMass, this is a point of pride for them. They're playing at the (New England) Patriots' home field. And UMass is in a situation where they need to win two games to be bowl eligible. Their season finale is at Georgia. So chances are, they're not going to do that. But this is a game I'm sure they feel like they can and should win and BYU should feel the same way. And BYU is in a situation where they're trying to get bowl eligible. They need two more wins. They've got three games left, two wins. I think New Mexico State, I would you know, I can't imagine BYU losing that game. You never know. So this is a critical game for BYU coming up on Saturday.
BG: I'm going to talk about the BYU women's volleyball team, because we never do and I mean to every week. Because this team is something special. They're the No. 1 team in the country playing in Provo. This isn't some sport like men's volleyball where you have 30 teams and it's kind of pretend — I don't want to use the word pretend. But you have a full field of college teams. And BYU is the No. 1 team in the country. They have not lost a game. They rarely lose a set. They are stacked, they are strong at every single position. I'm really excited to cover this team because this team has a legitimate chance to win it all and they're loaded. The atmosphere is fantastic, that's what's happening at BYU. If you're frustrated with football, just go watch these girls play because it's something special.
DH: Jeff Call, your final word.
JC: Well, just going back to the UMass game. I think we talked earlier about Jeff Grimes getting criticized. I mean, you can look back at the clock management, play calling, all that stuff. Here's a chance for BYU, once again, to go on the road, iron out all those kinks and the problems they had against Boise, and get a win. And this is, again, it's UMass. But it's a big game and they need to win this game. And I think if they do, if they get bowl eligible. I think there's hope for the future. I mean, getting to a bowl game is important not just for the fact it's a bowl game, but you get that extra practice and with a young team they need those extra practices in December to get better to kind of springboard into next year.
DH: My final word, two things: Chris Wilcox got injured in that game against Boise State, he's out for the season. To me he epitomizes the philosophy that Ed Lamb brought to BYU in recruiting. You go find somebody with raw talent, with speed, with the measurables like height and reach, and then you develop them into a football player. And I think he's made tremendous progress in his career. Sad to see Chris Wilcox. His season has ended with an injury on a road trip.4 comments on this story
And then the second thing I would say is that BYU did make a ton of mistakes up in Boise, a ton of them, but they outplayed Boise State, they outplayed them all the way down to the last play when they just couldn't finish it off. That kind of team, correcting those kinds of mistakes, should be a team that can defeat UMass. I don't care where it is. Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Cougar Insider podcast. We'd love to hear from you through email at [email protected], like we did Jason Olson. We're working to deliver the best, most up-to-date information on BYU sports and love to have you join us. We want to thank our sponsors Grid Picks at DeseretNews.com and also the Salt Lake Stallions. They're in town. If you like football, if you love football, you can't miss it. Thanks. We'll talk to you later.