Cougar Insiders Jeff Call, Dick Harmon and Brandon Gurney explore a variety of topics on this week’s Cougar Insiders podcast. From Tom Holmoe’s puzzling comments, to how this year’s recruiting class is shaping up, to why finishing 7-6 means so much more than 6-7, the crew offers its takes. That and more on this week’s episode.
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 from Deseret News, along with Jeff Call and Brandon Gurney. In this episode we'll be talking about Tom Holmoe, athletic director at BYU, and a kind of a controversial statement that he made about what was the highlight of this past season, actually losing to Utah and we'll explain that to him. And we're going to go over the recruiting that's happening this week. BYU has a lot of recruits that they expect to sign on Wednesday. We'll also talk about women's volleyball, BYU basketball and we'll be talking about the bowl game. BYU will be in Boise to play Western Michigan. Jeff Call is going to be on the scene immediately after he leaves this podcast. We'll be there this week, I'll be there and we'll be talking about that. That and much more in this edition of the Cougar Insiders podcast.
Welcome to the Cougar Insiders podcast. We're coming to you from Thanksgiving Point, we're talking BYU sports. This podcast is brought to you by the Salt Lake Stallions. Get ticket information from Salt Lake stallions.com, or give them a call at 833-223-2019.
This is bowl week for BYU. Jeff Call is leaving in a few minutes to go up to Boise. And he's going to have a potato bar and he's going to put cheese and chives on it and sour cream and I don't know what kind of meat you're going to put on it. But Jeff Call, this is a bowl game BYU needs to be in and needs to win.
Jeff Call: They do. I mean, their ultimate record hinges on this game. Whether it's a winning season or losing season, and that's all anyone's gonna remember. I mean, looking back at the season it can be either winning or losing season and they've got to perform. This is a team I think that they should win this game. But with this team we have seen all year that there's been games where they just haven't shown up and played the way they should. And one thing that stands out about this game, as you look at common opponents. There's one common opponent, that's Northern Illinois. BYU lost at home to Northern Illinois. Western Michigan beat Northern Illinois. In fact, that was their last game, beating Northern Illinois, who ended up winning the MAC championship. So how to interpret that I have no idea, but this is a game that BYU needs to come out and play like they did in that first half against Utah. With passion, with fire and being aggressive.
DH: Brandon Gurney, if you consider that Northern Illinois loss by BYU, this was the second game that a freshman quarterback started. Zach Wilson, that was his second game after the Hawaii game, which was kind of explosive; then you played a real good defense, really struggled. I don't want to blame him but he cost them the game by throwing a pick on the final drive where they could have a field goal and won that game. How much does that go into considering the loss to Northern Illinois as compared to a month later when they're going to play Western Michigan and he's had a lot of experience and had a great experience at Utah?
Brandon Gurney: I think adjusting to Zach Wilson has been kind of an underrated thing. As far as the offense, it's changed pretty dramatically. When you see an offense that has so many young players with extra bowl practices, you expect a lot of upward mobility, a lot of continued momentum going into this game. It's Western Michigan, with all due respect to Western Michigan, BYU needs to make it like it doesn't belong in that bowl. They belong somewhere else. Do away with them, make it a no-doubter. Yes, we're BYU, this team can't be on the same field as us. That's what you want to see.
DH: They will be bigger. BYU will be physically bigger than this team.
BG: Absolutely. But as far as recruiting goes, all that? Yeah, you need to get this done, and you need to get it done in an impressive fashion.
DH: Well, let's break it down. Who's going to be the X-factor? And what is your prediction, Jeff Call?
JC: Prediction on the game?
DH: Yeah, and who's going to be the X-factor?
JC: Well going into this, I would say probably Squally Canada. Or Lopini Katoa. Now, we don't know Lopini's situation. That's still kind of up in the air. No one's been definitive about whether he'll play or not. But I do think that this team needs a solid, consistent run game to win this game. And we seen it all year. They've got to be able to run the ball. Matt Hadley's out, he had a pretty impressive performance the last few games of the season, but he's done. Then we have Squally Canada who we've heard is available for this game, but he really hasn't done much since the Wisconsin game two months ago. So what are we going to see out of Squally, I don't know. But someone has got to step up, whether it's Squally, whether it's Lopini, somebody has to step up and be able to run the ball.
DH: Brandon Gurney What is your X-factor? And what's your prediction?
BG: I want to see the receivers do something. I want to see a receiver have a big game. Aleva Hifo, Gunner Romney, maybe he's going to do something. Just a receiver stepping up and taking control. Maybe a Talon Shumway. All due respect to Talon, he's been fine, he's been OK, but that's kind of the point. They've just been fine, they've just been kind of filling in. Because I don't think with this recruiting class we're going to get to later, that BYU's bringing in some talent. They need someone from this lot to really step forward and say yeah, I'm a guy, I'm a go-to guy in this receiving corps. So we'll see if that takes place. My prediction — oh man, predictions this year I've been so wrong. But I think BYU's gonna run these guys. I think it's gonna be 38-17.
DH: My X-factor I really think should be the tight ends. You've got two guys in Matt Bushman and Dallin Holker, and they're very good athletes, they're very good receivers. I think they've been under-utilized a lot this year, and I think they could come out and be a big factor in this game. They need to be. I think the mismatches that they present for Western Michigan are going to be very evident and they need to use them a lot more and I agree with both of you about the receivers and the running backs. The defense is going to be really interesting to me, because you don't have Corbin Kaufusi, you probably will not have Isaiah Kaufusi. These are two great big playmakers and Western Michigan is capable of putting points on the board. They did that with Northern Illinois, they put a lot of points on the board. I think it was 26-21 or 26-20. So they scored a lot more points than BYU was able to do, so they're very capable. But they give up a lot of yards and they give up a lot of points. They're ranked really, really bad in statistics as far as defense goes and so BYU's got to win this with their offense. They've got to put up points, they've got to score in the 30s or 40s.
Well gentlemen, this week is recruiting. It's National Letter of Intent signing day early. Usually you have these things happen in February, but that's coming up early and that happens this week. Brandon Gurney, I know this is kind of down your line but there's a lot of names on the list and some of them are expected to sign. I think probably the one that a lot of people are interested in is Chase Roberts because Utah is having a little bit of a struggle in landing some of the top recruits on their list and they've come hard after Chase Roberts.
BG: Yeah, Chase appeared all over Twitter in Ute gear, which kind of put fans in a frenzy. And why wouldn't it. This is BYU's top recruit outside Jacob Conover. Outstanding player. Most years he'd far and away be the best receiver in the state but this year you have Puka Nacua. So it's an extraordinary year, an extraordinary talent, a guy BYU has to get an early commit. I believe BYU holds him if he does not sign Wednesday and ops to sign for the later period, which I'm kind of hearing he might be leaning toward because he did get named as an Under Armour All-American and all that and maybe wants to do the whole thing and get pub and all that. So if he doesn't sign Wednesday, maybe a little bit of trepidation. I still think BYU lands this kid but there's no sure things in recruiting, if I've learned anything through the years. But I think BYU's going to end up with him.
DH: Well you know, Jacob Conover, he's a quarterback, maybe a little undersized, but he's accomplished something that no other quarterback in high school has done in the state of Arizona and you're talking about Danny White and Max Hall and a lot of other good quarterbacks and that is he's won three or four state titles for Chandler. But the interesting thing I want to ask you about is that he's been a catalyst in contacting a lot of recruits and trying to build this class up. What do you know about that?
BG: He's done a fantastic job with that. When you look at a guy like Chase Roberts, a guy he will be throwing the football, both these guys are serving missions. Yeah, come back. Listen, I'm a four-star guy. I'm going to be throwing you the ball. I think that's kind of a big thing for Chase Roberts, who I still believe will sign with BYU but there's a little trepidation there. So yeah, it's always a big thing.
DH: Jeff Call, this is kind of down your line because your kids go to high school with him. But Michael Daley, and outside linebacker at Lone Peak High School. You can hit a driver from your house and hit it into the Lone Peak parking lot. What do you know about Michael Daley?
JC: Michael Daley. I've seen him play quite a few times this year. And he's very impressive. He looks like a guy that could be, I'm not the type of person that likes to overhype kids, or things like that, but he just looks like a kid that will be a very solid defensive player in the future for BYU. He looks like a BYU player. He's very disruptive. He makes plays, he's a leader. And so this is a really big pickup for BYU. Wouldn't you say Brandon?
BG: When we look back at this class four or five years from now, I won't be surprised at all if Michael Daley is the guy that was the top recruit of this class. Very good player.
DH: One feature this class is offensive lineman, they've gone hard over some real good athletes at offensive line. The (Blake) Freeland kid from Herriman, you got a guy named Brock Gunderson from Cypress Woods in Texas. You've got Elijah Unatoa, he's from Hawaii. This class may be remembered for Conover because of the quarterback situation, but there will be some offensive lineman here that probably will progress and be pretty good.
BG: Yeah, none of them are headliners but a solid group. You always want to get a lot of good offensive linemen and that's kind of the position for BYU moving forward with this offensive coordinator. I swear I argue every time I'm on this podcast, offensive line needs to be the marquee position at BYU. There's no reason why it shouldn't be. So you like the depth, you like the potential of these guys. I really like Elijah Unutoa from Hawaii. He's a kid that kind of stands out to me on film as just a guy that has a lot of upward mobility and a lot of potential.
DH: They have a commitment to sign from a George Udo. A defensive back, his highlight film looks very good. He's from Barnard Christian Academy. What do we know about him?
BG: I think they like him as a receiver, actually, and I kind of one of those under-the-radar guys. I think he's a guy that he needed to commit or that offer might have gone away. But yeah, an interesting guy, along with Keanu Hill. Big bodied receivers, possession type receivers, and we know they need more receiver town in this program. These guys are our guys that won't be going on missions that could potentially contribute immediately.
DH: Sky View High School's Caleb Christensen, another prospect, and Eric Ellison, a junior college defensive back. Both are slated to sign. Do you expect that they'll come through?
BG: Yeah, Ellison just recently committed. I think he's a midyear guy, I'd have to check on that, but I really like what BYU is doing at defensive back. I don't think I've ever seen this much young talent since I've been covering the program. These guys can play. BYU's secondary has been very good this year and if they can keep these guys in the program, that's always the thing with defensive backs is just keeping these guys around, and I think what Jernaro Gilford that's going to help a lot in that regard. If they can keep these guys around we might be saying BYU's cornerback is a position of strength. When have we ever said that? And moving forward it could be if they keep all these kids, while adding guys like Ellison.
DH: Would it be safe to say that the real disappointment of what will happen this week is that AJ Steward, the running back coach, I think has done a great job in identifying talent, going after them, bringing them on campus, making some offers to some very talented running backs. I think they've offered about nine but it ends up that they might even get one or two or zero. He may be shut out but it's not because of the effort and I think that's a little bit disappointing.
BG: Absolutely. The guy they really wanted was Aidan Robbins from Louisville. He looked like the most likely to sign and he went back to Louisville. So yeah, there's a real need a running back. You look at the attrition BYU went through, yeah they need running backs. So yeah, you struck out, you don't win all of them. Not for lack of effort. They offered lot of guys, as you just mentioned, but anyway maybe one of these guys will land. I think seven of them have publicly said they're not coming to BYU. One really in play — I forget the guy's name right now, but yeah I don't think they're gonna be able to sign a running back.
DH: Well, just to remind you we are sponsored today in this podcast by the Salt Lake Stallions. We invite you to go to SaltLakeStallions.com and look at the ticket information. You can also call 833-223-2019 and this is something will be taking place in February. A new league, lot of local players have tried out and made that team, and it'd be a great opportunity to see Dennis Erickson and what he's put together. Professional football in Utah.
Let's talk a little bit about some of the things that are going around right now. Tom Holmoe in an article that Jeff Call did is just getting hammered when he said one of the highlights of this season was how BYU played in the first half of the Utah game. And he is getting mocked, he's getting hammered. He is getting hit really, really hard. He came out today with a little bit further of a clarification when he was on BYU Sports Nation, and Brian Logan kind of questioned him about that. And he said, Brian's right. I didn't answer the question very well. The thoughts were with in another direction. Obviously, Wisconsin was a great win and the highlight of the season. The first half of the last game was our best half of the year, all things considered.
Jeff Call, maybe you could give us the background on this story and how it came about and let people understand, because this is your story. You can explain this better than anybody because this is yours. You initiated this and Tom now is having to — I can't say it's your fault. But tell us what happened.
JC: So I wanted to do a story this week, kind of looking at the season and the job that Kalani has done bouncing back from a losing record. Now, like we mentioned earlier, it could be another losing record or could be a winning record depending upon what happens Friday. But I thought I would reach out to some people that can kind of give me some perspective. And of course, I thought of Tom because he's Kalani's boss. But the thing is, I don't know if our listeners know this or not, but Tom does not generally give interviews. Those that have followed the Deseret News and other media know that he does these Q&A's as a group session, which is really good, but it's very rare that he gives us one-on-one interviews. So when I reached out to BYU to try to talk to Tom I was told that he was going to Minneapolis for volleyball. And he's really busy. But if I could email a few questions they'd see if he could answer those. And so that's what happened. A couple days after I emailed the questions, I asked several questions about the season, about Kalani and the direction of the program. And one of the questions I asked was what, for you, was the highlight of the season? And so when I got the email back, like everyone, I was kind of surprised to see his response because I thought for sure he was gonna say the Wisconsin game. Beating a ranked team on the road. But the problem is, when you email back and forth in a setting like that, you really can't do follow up questions. And it makes it difficult that way.
DH: That made it hard for Tom to get this done is that you didn't follow up, you know, explain why. And then, yeah, he would have done something different or said something different.
JC: Right. He could have clarified, like he did in the tweet today, he could have taken care of that when I talked to him, but that didn't happen. So yeah, I mean, I appreciate Tom for taking the time to answer..
DH: That is the bottom line because he got burned on this.
JC: Yeah, and I think I understand where Tom's coming from, just like he clarified. That's kind of what I took it as. I mean, 20-0 at halftime. No one would have predicted that, no one could have seen that coming and they were out coaching Utah, they were dynamic on offense, playing well on defense, so I see where he's coming from. But I think the implication of what he said was that it's OK for moral victories. We're satisfied with just showing glimpses of being competitive and I don't think that's what Tom meant at all. I mean, I think you'll address this, having seen Tom in the elevator right after that Utah game, right?
DH: Yeah, I can tell I could tell BYU fans this because I came down to the field. And I got on the elevator. And by surprise, walking in the elevator, I was with Tom and his wife and his children. And let me tell you, they were devastated. They look like death warmed over. They were not happy, because they've been up and high in the first half. And then they had walked out seeing the team collapse. And this was not a highlight of the season for that family and for Tom Holmoe. It was not. But I also know that Tom looks at it from this perspective, and that is that this team went through a lot. They had some key injuries to some people. They made a quarterback change, a decisive quarterback change in the direction of the program to bring Zach Wilson in for a very veteran player in Tanner Mangum. And then they started playing some other freshmen because they beat out the other players. He also tried to hire Kyle Whittingham at least two, maybe three times, had a verbal commitment from him back in 2005 that he would come and coach at BYU. So he had a personal interest in his former teammate and team captain at BYU. Kyle Whittingham, sitting there, I think in the press box, and seeing a 20-0 lead and 27-7 lead late in the third quarter. This was a highlight for Tom. I mean, he was excited about seeing, OK, this is the direction that we're taking this program. It ended up being a disaster in the end and nobody can celebrate that. And I can tell you from firsthand experience, they were not happy that they had to feel the way they did getting into that elevator and facing a lot of the Utah faithful as they also mingled with them. But it was interesting to see how hard that Tom got hammered over this question.
BG: See, Tom's response is probably going to be to talk to the media even less, which is unfortunate. I think he could do himself a lot of favors by being more accessible. So that when Jeff does an interview, or anybody like this, it's just like hey Tom. Oh, you don't mean that, can you clarify? I think making yourself more accessible would do a lot of good. I don't know why he doesn't make himself more accessible. It's kind of been a frustration for everyone. But I think a lot of good could come with it. Just forging a better relationship, a more understanding relationship with the media. I'd like to see that. But it's probably not gonna happen.
DH: I like Tom, I've covered him since he was a freshman at BYU. I covered him in a recruiting story when he signed at BYU out of Southern California. I followed his career, and he's a good guy. I think he's doing a really good job. I think people that are dissatisfied with the wins and the losses and the way they're losing, stuff like that. One of the first people they kind of pick on are the coaches and then the athletic director. But there's a lot of good signs happening right now. I believe there's been movement in this program, which is really fighting against a lot of odds in college football, the way that the scene is right now, the Honor Code and some other things. We've talked about all that, I don't want to get into that.
But let's talk about your latest story. Jeff Call, you did have a story about the freshman movement at BYU. Playing a glut of freshmen, is this something because they needed a new direction or did these guys actually just kind of step up and beat people out?
JC: Well, I mean, you talk to the coaches and it sounds like this is a situation where these young guys came and put in the work and they beat out some of these other more veteran guys. We're seeing the leading passer on this team is a true freshman, leading rusher on this team is a true freshman. Three freshmen will start on the offensive line, including James Empey, who has started every game. So, you know, it's one of those things where these guys, you see them kind of grow up through the season. There's been some good times and some bad times. But for the long-term health of the program, I think to have these guys — and not just getting the playing time, but the continuity is crucial. I think most of these guys are coming back next year too. We're not going to see a lot of disruption with guys leaving on missions for two years. There's gonna be some continuity here. That's really important. That's something we don't see a whole lot at BYU — guys playing together for long periods of time.
DH: We're going to throw the next two topics together to kind of end things and that is BYU basketball and the women's volleyball team. I don't know which one we ought to go first but I got to tell you, when BYU lost to Weber State up in Ogden it was the first time that Dave Rose had lost to Weber State. And they didn't play well, they didn't look good, it was not a very good loss at all. And then they rebounded, won three games, they beat Utah in Vivint Arena and handled them pretty good and that made fans feel a little bit rosy. They go down to Las Vegas on a neutral court and play a team that's probably ranked in the 300s that is not playing very good, not shooting very well, can't hit outside shots, Jeff Call, and they lose to that team in overtime after making a screaming comeback. They set the fans hearts on fire and then they let them down. That was a horrible loss by BYU. I don't care how hard they fought back. It was a horrible loss.
JC: Yeah, well, so going into that game I was looking at UNLV's shooting and I think for the year they were shooting 26 percent from 3-point range. Like you mentioned, not good at outside shooting. And what do they do? They hit 13 3s, including the game winner at the buzzer in over time. And you know, it's just like, where does this come from? But we've seen this before. Teams are consistently doing this against BYU. Teams that don't shoot very well, all the sudden they shoot really well. Same with the free-throw line. Which you can't guard the free-throw line. But still, it's weird.
DH: Traditionally, BYU players have had great free-throw shooting. You go back to Danny Ainge, all the way through Roger Reid and Coach (LaDell) Andersen and that, from the '80s and '90s, and they're missing free throws that could have won the game easily at Weber and this game.
JC: And then also throw in that Southern Illinois game. That was very similar, where Southern Illinois is hitting 3s all over the place, they're making all their free throws, and then BYU is struggling in those areas. So yeah, where we sit now I don't know. BYU's got a game Saturday against San Diego State. San Diego State is not the same San Diego State that we've been used to, so I think that's a winnable game. But right now I don't know. Coming off those three wins I really thought that — you know, they had that players only meeting after the Weber State game, they got Nick Emery back, played pretty well against Utah. That Utah State game was amazing, the way they played. I mean they were just dialed in from the beginning and took control of that game. Now I don't know where they're at. They've got finals this week, kind of a long layoff to their next game. I don't know what to expect.
DH: Killer instinct. Being up all the time, playing hard all the time, being interested and engaged all the time, finishing. Brandon Gurney, you went to Minneapolis. The women, ranked No. 1 in the country, seeded in top Final Four, maybe one of the best hitters in the country, an All-American. They get out there and they do what the men usually do. They just flat-out didn't play.
BG: It was stunning to watch, I mean Stanford's really good, but man BYU was never in it. It was more of a case os BYU just not doing what it does. The passing was terrible. It was just one of those matches where I was just stunned by what I was seeing. I mean, this is a team that beat Stanford earlier in the year. Yes things change, BYU didn't have its second-best pin-hitter, McKenna Miller, but I don't think it would have mattered because they weren't passing to set up really good kill opportunities the entire match. And it was really a disappointing end of what's been a remarkable season for the women. And what really hurts is people probably came away, BYU didn't really belong there. When absolutely they did belong there. They just had a really, really bad match.
DH: This is kind of a theme that's going on with BYU athletics lately, is that they take you right to the threshold of something really exciting and then they just kind of let you down. Is there a reason for that? Is that just what we're going to have out of BYU sports from now on? Because I'll tell you, fans are sick of it. They're tired of it. They're tired of investing in and they're tired of seeing it.29 comments on this story
BG: It needs to change.
DH: Well, thanks for joining us on this episode of the Cougar Insiders podcast. We'd love to hear from you through email at [email protected], and please subscribe or download to our podcast wherever you find it. We're working to deliver you the most up-to-date information on BYU sports. And we love to have you join us. We also want you to take a look at the Salt Lake Stallions, you can get a hold of the ticket information through SaltLakeStallions.com or call 833-223-2019.