FREER, Texas — Ty Detmer represents a record-breaking era of BYU football against rival Utah. A look back at his 1989 performance — an emphatic 70-31 victory — speaks of a different time that would be difficult to repeat for the Cougars in this rivalry by today’s matchup and trend.
For a generation that does not know what happened three decades ago, here’s a reminder: After seven straight Utah wins, reflecting back to BYU’s glory days is just about all the Cougars can do these days. Until BYU does something about it on the field, memory is a pacifier.
Utah hired the late Fred Whittingham a few years after that big BYU win in 1989, and the Utes got tougher in every realm imaginable. That hire became a foundation of what the Utes are today under Fred's son, Kyle.
Teams that beat Utah today do so with outstanding quarterback play. You saw it by Washington and Washington State and Arizona State this season. It is far too early to know if BYU freshman Zach Wilson has that in him, but the position he plays is key. The last two times BYU beat Utah, it was with John Beck and Max Hall making big plays.
Here’s a glimpse back at Detmer and his first win over Utah, a team he never lost to as a starter. Against the Utes, Detmer amassed 1,449 total yards, 14 touchdowns, and went 3-0 with a 163-70 point differential.
Sitting around a long dining table at his T14 ranch this past week with a captive audience of hunters after dinner, Detmer broke down that game.
That November day in 1989, the Cougars were after revenge in Provo. The previous year a Scott Mitchell-led Ute team clobbered the Cougars, 57-28.
In the 1989 game, Detmer helped create a 70-31 victory in which BYU scored on its first eight possessions, amassed 750 yards and had a 49-0 lead before Utah scored.
“They beat us the year before so we were ready for them,” said Detmer. Mitchell had somebody roll up on his leg earlier in the week and was not able to play. “I’ve always told him he owes me 300 more yards because if he had been playing they would have scored more and I would have been able to play more that day.”
When LaVell Edwards pulled Detmer from the game after a scoring drive to open the third quarter, current Utah tight ends coach Fred Whittingham had just scored on a 5-yard run to make it 56-10. Detmer completed 18 of 22 passes for 358 yards and 4 touchdowns. His pass efficiency rating was 278.51.
Everything worked that day. Utah barely resisted. Freddie Whittingham, who scored four touchdowns, told reporters afterward, “It was as easy as it looked. It was like we were running against air. It was easy to break tackles and find holes. Their defense didn’t seem to be there.”
My, how times have changed.
“It was one of those days we were dialed in and ticked off from the year before,” said Detmer. “It was right down the field on every drive.”
Standing on the sidelines as Utah scored a trio of touchdowns on BYU reserves and they prepared to score again, Edwards turned to Detmer and said, “Be ready to go back in if they keep scoring.”
Around that time, Detmer had to go to the bathroom. “We were killing them real bad and because of all the scoring, it was taking a really long time and I had to go so bad. I just couldn’t wait, no way I’d have made it to the end,” he said.
Detmer trotted to the locker room in full gear, pads, helmet and cleats. It was locked. Desperate, he jogged up the ramp to the public restrooms where he had BYU fans all around. “Hey, good job,” some told him.
“I’d never had that happen before or after in my career. I still remember it to this day.”
Detmer had great respect for his teammates, who were running on all cylinders. This was toward the end of the season before he won the Heisman Trophy a year later. His chemistry with backs like Whittingham, Matt Bellini and receivers Andy Boyce and Jeff Frandsen was solid. Bellini would go on to become BYU’s all-time leading receiver. His tight end Chris Smith would go on to earn All-America honors and set an NCAA record for yards by a tight end. His kicker was former U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz.
“We were a senior-junior-heavy team and had played a lot of games together,” he said.
On Detmer’s final scoring drive, BYU had the ball on Utah’s 5-yard line and called a draw trap. Detmer looked at the middle linebacker to get him to drop. He really dropped. He dropped back to the goal line and then kept dropping back. “I handed off to Freddy and he made it to the end zone before he could even react.
“I don’t know why they played that way. Maybe it was when Scott went down, they didn’t think they had a chance but their defense had a really bad day.”
Detmer and Freddie remain in contact even today.
“He was a character. I mean, he was a guy who was always making a wisecrack and he still does today. Even now, at least once a month, he checks in or I send him a message, but he was a character.
“He was not very tall but he was a stout fullback. He was smart, understood the game and caught the ball out of the backfield. He was the perfect type of fullback for BYU and he brought a lot to the huddle and to the entire team in just his attitude and work ethic and charisma. Because he wasn’t very tall, he worked harder to get there. I think that is instilled in all the Whittinghams.”
Detmer is the first to admit it was a different time. In those days, BYU was advanced offensively and defenses had not caught up to what they were doing. “It isn’t that way anymore.”
Did he feel sorry for Utah that day?
“No, no, because they’d poured it on us the year before. I think they put 50-plus on us. We didn’t feel sorry at all.”
Detmer keeps in touch with all his teammates from that game in 1989. He buys his trucks from running back Stacey Corley, whose family owns a Ford dealership in New Mexico. He golfed with Bellini a few weeks ago in Arizona.
Detmer’s receivers and backs were not NFL guys who ran 4.4 40s. Yet, he was the first college quarterback to surpass 15,000 yards and 121 touchdowns.
“I was lucky to play with guys who were very smart and were talented too. Our guys were in the right place at the right time.
“You could change things at the line of scrimmage and they knew why you were doing it. On the sideline a guy like Boyce would talk of a play and a hand sign and say next time he showed it, it would do the opposite, a slant.40 comments on this story
“You could do things like that where you were almost making it up as you went along sometimes. Norm Chow probably didn’t like it that much but sometimes it worked. To his credit, he trusted us and allowed us to do it at times. Now, having been a coach, you want to strangle players when it doesn’t work but we had a good group and we could change it and tweak it as needed.”
BYU’s young offense will face a great Utah defense come Saturday. It is nothing like that day in November 29 years ago.
In nobody's world would Morgan Scalley allow a team to score 49 straight points. But back in the day, Detmer could do almost anything he wanted against Utah. BYU’s 70 points that day was the most ever scored by a team in the rivalry.