When it comes to outstanding individual performances in BYU-Utah football games, the Cougar Insiders load up on quarterbacks like Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, John Beck and Max Hall. Toss in a couple of tight ends like Clay Brown and Jonny Harline and standout running backs like Ronney Jenkins, Harvey Unga and Luke Staley and enjoy the trip down memory lane.
Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Dick Harmon: 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're 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. Gentlemen, in this edition we're going to talk about your top best five BYU athlete performances in the BYU-Utah series. You can go all the way back, you can go current, you can go glory days, whatever you want. Let's pick on you first, Jeff Call. Who's your No. 5?
Jeff Call: I'm going to go with Harvey Unga. This is the 2007 game. BYU won 17-10. Harvey scored the game-winner there late in that game. That was a dramatic one after the fourth-and-18 play. He rushed 23 times for 144 yards and one touchdown. And I think BYU fans all enjoyed that touchdown because he trucked somebody, I can't remember who it was, in the end zone. It was dramatic, it was a big performance by him. They needed that.
DH: He was a tough back, you know, and people got to realize that he came out early. He had another year of eligibility, had some troubles, he decided to leave school early. He had one more year. You have Jamal Williams break his all-time leading rush record but he was the best rusher in BYU history.
JC: Yeah and that 2010 season they didn't have him, I think a lot of the troubles came from that. They didn't really have a consistent back and I think BYU was obviously expecting him that year and it didn't work out. But he's with BYU still, he's a grad assistant at BYU. See him all the time. Great guy.
DH: Your No. 5, Brandon Gurney.
Brandon Gurney: I don't know if he's my No. 5. I'm kind of late to the party. So just formulating a top five, but Johnny Harline in 2006. Everyone remembers the play that he made and it should be remembered. But other than that he was really good throughout that entire game. He had three touchdown receptions in that game, he made a fantastic play, guarded by Eric Weddle, that was just amazing. You won't see a better catch at the collegiate level. He had seven receptions for 118 yards and three touchdowns. He was good throughout the entire game. It wasn't just that last play, which was obviously the greatest, maybe the greatest single play BYU's ever had. Other than the Miracle Bowl, that'd probably be No. 2. I think maybe we could all agree on that. But yeah, Johnny Harline. Was there a player that was better at making plays on the ball? You talk about just natural intangibles, to just go up and get a football. I don't know if I've seen anyone better than Johnny Harline.
DH: One of the best athletes that Orem High School ever had. My No. 5, gentlemen, I'm going to reach back and I'm gonna go with my favorite, go to person, that's Ty Detmer. Let me set the scene. Back in 1988, BYU went up to Rice-Eccles and they had a new quarterback, Scott Mitchell, went in the NFL, but he just thrashed BYU. Sean Covey was the quarterback. He ended up throwing an interception, I think to Utah's nose guard, and I think it was a pick-six. Went for a touchdown. That was the setting in 1988. 1989 comes along and Ty Detmer is playing that year. They come out with a 70-31 win. Utah's defense was not very good. In fact, BYU scored on eight of its first possessions, eight of them in a row. I think Fred Whittingham said it was like they were playing against nobody out there. But just breaking down that and what it meant, Ty Detmer scored three touchdowns himself that day for 18 points. Jason Chaffetz, who was a U.S. congressman, at the time the kicker, he had 10 points that he scored. And that's still a school record for a kicker. You had scores from Matt Bellini, Stacy Corley, Jeff Frandsen, and Matt Odle, Chris Smith, an All-American tight end, and Peter Tuipulotu, whose son now is playing at BYU. It was 49-7 when Utah finally scored at the end of the second quarter. There were 750 total yards racked up by BYU. Ty Detmer was 18 out of 22, he only missed four passes. 358 yards, a 16.3 yards per average, four touchdown passes. He had a pass efficiency rating that game of 278.51. That's my No. 5. Jeff Call, your No. 4.
JC: So I'm going to go back to '96 up at Rice-Eccles. That year that BYU ended up going to the Cotton Bowl. 37-17 for BYU. I'm going to mention two performances.
DH: You're stealing my thunder here. That's my No. 4. Go ahead.
JC: You asked me first. Steve Sarkisian, I think, only threw 12 passes that day. Twelve. But that's because they had two running backs go over 100 yards, well over 100 yards. Brian Mackenzie, 23 rushes, 180 yards, touchdown. And then Ronnie Jenkins, 29 rushes, 161 yards, three touchdowns. So BYU didn't need to throw the ball that day, it was just hand off, and Jenkins and Mackenzie went nuts and it's the last time that BYU really had a comfortable victory over Utah.
DH: You took it. I got those two too. 63 rushes for 376 years. That was a day where Norm Chow just simply says, you know what, we'll run the ball and we'll keep running until they stop it. And they never stopped and they just kept doing it. Your No. 4, Brandon Gurney.
BG: I'm going to hurry and steal this one because I know it's on both of you guys lists and I don't want you to take it. Luke Staley in 2001. Pretty obvious one right there. BYU fans will remember forever him galloping down the sideline when it looked like Utah was going to steal that game. 17 rushed for 169 yards. That's pretty good efficiency right there. You kind of wonder why did he only carry it 17 times? He's making 169 yards on those rushes. But yeah, Luke Staley, BYU's never had a better rushing attack. If you just take one single year, what Luke Staley was able to do that year was just something we'll probably never ever see again.
JC: So you're looking for No. 3?
BG: I stole it.
JC: You did steal it. But I was well-prepared. I went deep in the archives. I'm going to go back to the year 1983. 55-7 for BYU. These numbers for Steve Young: 22 of 25, no interceptions, 268 yards, six touchdowns for Steve Young. And BYU didn't even score in the fourth quarter. Because that was the score at the end of the third — 55-7. Tremendous performance for Steve Young, his last game at LaVell Edwards Stadium, last home game, and just a tremendous performance. Pinpoint passing, threw it all over, and Utah couldn't stop him. I remember Steve Young scrambling around, they couldn't catch him. Just a tremendous performance by Steve Young in his final home game as a Cougar.
DH: Very good Jeff. Your No. 3, Brandon.
BG: You've got to give me some time. Why don't you go?
DH: I'm going to kind of pick on one, the 2007 game that Jeff Call made his number — was it your No. 5? I'm going to pick Max Hall in that game. The simple reason is this — he came into that game with an injured shoulder. It was partially separated. You know, he wasn't doing very well. But in that game, he had that famous — what was it, third-and-18 to Collie? But he was 17 of 40 in that game. 40 passes he threw on that bad arm. 269 yards. He ended up engineering that drive that ended up in Harvey Unga's touchdown, scoring touchdown there. But I'll give it to Max Hall on that day, simply because of the guts that he showed on his home field. A loss there would have been devastating to BYU back then. That's my No. 3. Brandon, have you thought of yours yet?
BG: I have. Yeah I got one. 1985. BYU wins 38-28, one of the more hotly contested games relative to that time in BYU football. But one of my favorite running back growing up was Lakei Heimuli. Really underrated player, a guy that really did well, and one of his best games was in the 1985 game where he rushed 24 times for 174 yards and scored three touchdowns. Really good. And BYU did it again on the ground in that game. Vai Sikahema, 13 rushes for 81 yards. They had four rushing touchdowns in that game night on a 1985 game when BYU was just throwing it all over the place back then. So Lakee Heimuli. One of the more overlooked, really good running backs that has passed through the program.
DH: Let's go to No. 2.
JC: Again, I'm going to go way back a ways to 1981. This is a game also in Provo, BYU 56, Utah 28. Jim McMahon in his final home game is a Cougar, 35 of 54, no interceptions, 565 yards, four touchdowns against Utah.
DH: Jeff, you kind of stole my No. 2. Half of it at least, because I was going to combine 1980 and '1 Jim McMahon. The back-to-back performances in two seasons that Jim McMahon had against Utah were phenomenal. He combined in those two games, back-to-back in 1980 and 1981, for 964 yards and seven touchdowns. And he scored 112 points, was involved in 112 points. And his pass-efficiency rating in those two games: 183 in 1980 and 177.6 in 1981. Like you say, tremendous performance by Jim McMahon in the year that you picked, but I'm combining both those years to say this was probably one of the best performances by a quarterback, back-to-back, that you'll see. And I will give the University of Utah, let them off the hook a little bit. Back in those days they really struggled defensively, they weren't that tough. Not until Fred Whittingham came in 1991 or '92 did they really get the toughness that you see today out of Kyle Whittingham's teams. So they were easy pickings back then, as was New Mexico, as was UTEP, as was just about everybody in that league. Brandon Gurney, your No. 2.
BG: I'm tapped out, man. You guys took all of mine.
DH: OK, I'm going to go first on this because Jeff Call keeps beating to it. I'm going to paint the 2006 game. The performance by John Beck in that game. 11-1 team up in Rice-Eccles Stadium. It's the "Harline's still open" play. Nine seconds, I think, that he held that ball to look for a play to make. To me, that will be one of the most dramatic endings to a BYU-Utah game that I've ever seen. And I give it to John Beck, a guy that was really underrated, not appreciated by a lot of BYU fans. But as time has gone out, now we're at 2018, people can look back and say John Beck was an outstanding quarterback. And that play will be remembered forever.
JC: Yeah, I mean, it's unforgettable. I mean, to see him running around out there. The play that Johnny made there, if you if you watch the play you see him start out on one end of the field. He goes all the way to the other end of the field. And then John throwing across his body, man, that's a hard throw to make. To be running, being chased one way and throw across your body. There's not a lot of quarterbacks that can make that throw. And it was just fitting that he was there on his knees, catching it in the end zone. I mean, it was just absolutely stunning.
DH: People don't realize John Beck had a speed, an arm speed with a football, which is mostly air and leather, not very aerodynamically capable, physically, in the law of physics. But he had a mile per hour measurement of 64 miles an hour with his ball. That's tremendous. Is that your No. 1? I don't know if it is but that's my number one.
JC: Well the No. 1 I picked, and we've already kind of talked about this a little bit, the 1980 game. 56-6 for BYU. We talked about Jim McMahon, but I want to point out the performance in that game of tight end Clay Brown. So five catches, 184 yards, two touchdowns in that game. I mean I didn't do the math on that, but five catches, 184 yards, that's a pretty good catch percentage.
DH: That's like 40 yards a catch, isn't it?
JC: It was pretty amazing. This performance is probably about a month before the Miracle Bowl, right, where he catches that in the end zone. BYU was up 42-zip after three quarters and so Clay Brown's a guy that — there were other good tight ends before him, but he was kind of the guy that solidified that this is a tight end school. This school produces great tight ends. Clay Brown is now in the College Football Hall of Fame. Just an outstanding performance against Utah that day.Comment on this story
BG: My thought on all this is we're going way too back for BYU performances. Some guy's gotta step up here soon that we can add on this list, because it's been a long time.
DH: I'll drink a Dr. Pepper to that. Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Cougar Insiders podcast. We'd love to hear from you through email. [email protected] and please subscribe or download our podcast wherever you find it. We're working to deliver the most up-to-date information on BYU sports and we'd love to have you join us. We want to thank our sponsors, GridPicks and the Salt Lake Stallions. We'll see you in our next episode. Thanks for being with us.