Riding a three-game losing streak into Wednesday’s home game against Utah State, BYU faithful are growing restless. Cougar Insiders Dick Harmon, Jeff Call and Brandon Gurney weigh in on what’s weighing down the BYU men's basketball team. They also size up BYU's bowl bid to Boise, talk BYU women’s volleyball, and discuss where you can find former Cougar offensive coordinator Ty Detmer these days. This 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: Coming up on this episode of the Cougar Insiders podcast we're going to break down this bowl game, the importance of it. Is this really where BYU should go, or expect to go? This brand of a program ending up in Idaho, in Boise, a place they've been to already? We're going to talk about BYU basketball. What in the world is going on with BYU basketball? There expected to be lot more, are they getting enough out of it, and whose fault is it? We'll also talk a little bit about the BYU volleyball team and how they are taking on a challenge for a national title and doing very, very well without McKenna Miller. That more on this edition of the Cougar Insider podcast.
Welcome to the Cougar Insiders podcast. I'm Dick Harmon, columnist for the Deseret News, along with beat writers Jeff Call and Brandon Gurney, coming to you from Thanksgiving Point and we're talking BYU sports. This podcast is brought to you by the Salt Lake Stallions, one of our sponsors and we appreciate them. Brandon?
Brandon Gurney: What if football didn't have to end? This February it doesn't. The Salt Lake Stallions of the Alliance of American Football begin their inaugural season. Real professional football at Rice-Eccles Stadium. See some former Utes, Cougars, Aggies and other local players return home, all led by former NFL and college coach Dennis Erickson. Season tickets for as low as $75. Call 1-883-AAF-2019 or go to SaltLakeStallions.com Real football this spring in Utah.
DH: You know, BYU got invited to a bowl game. It was expected they would be after ESPN had contracted them to be in a bowl, the Poinsettia Bowl, and then that went under, ESPN owed it to BYU to get them in a bowl. It looks like they were thinking about putting them in Dallas. But then they thought we're going to sell a lot more tickets and the community is going to be better served if we have it close to BYU in Boise, Idaho, where BYU fans — there's half a million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Idaho. BYU fans from Utah would go, so a decision was made that they would put BYU in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and they'll be playing Western Michigan. Jeff Call, was this a surprise to you at all? Or was a possibility as you did your research?
Jeff Call: It's always a possibility but I was somewhat surprised because a lot of the projections were Dallas and some other places, but you know when you look at it, it's probably the bowl game that BYU deserved after a 6-6 season. There were four other teams with 6-6 records that got shut out of bowls and I think BYU's in a place right now where they're just happy to be going to a bowl, especially coming off last year where they didn't have a bowl game at all. So this is probably the right place for BYU.
DH: Jeff, I've been going to bowl games for 40 years. You've been going to bowl games for a couple of decades, and we've been away from our families at times during Christmas. I remember a lonely Christmas in Hawaii, where I shared a room with a Kurt Kragthorpe back in the days, and Christmas was a very lonely day. And we were away from our families. One of the positives of this bowl game is that you'll be back for Christmas, things will be over, you'll be gone, you'll go down, you come back. I would think the coaches and players would also maybe think that's partly a big plus also.
JC: Yeah, I mean, Kalani Sitake said as much yesterday. His wife is happy that the bowl game is before Christmas. And for us personally, it's a good thing. I mean, I think you were at the Motor City bowl years ago, where we had to fly out Christmas night to Detroit and watch the football game the next day and it wasn't very good game anyway. But yeah, that to me is a positive. The Potato Bowl doesn't have a lot of cachet — we all know that. I mean, if the Rose Bowl is the granddaddy of them all, then the Potato Bowl is probably the weird aunt with blue hair that brings funeral potatoes to every family gathering.
BG: I like funeral potatoes.
JC: Yeah, I do too, but it's just not a bowl game that people tend to get excited about and the truth of matter is, like you mentioned Dick, lot of people will be able to drive. It's close enough to drive for people in Utah. And there's a lot of BYU fans in that Boise area that can go to the game too, so that's one of those positives you had to draw from this.
DH: You know, Brandon I'm sure has one take. Just for the fun of it I'll play devil's advocate, but Brandon Gurney sell us on the Potato Bowl and your angle.
BG: Well, you guys put some good lipstick on this putrid bowl game. I mean, come on guys. When you watch the bowl season and you see this bowl game, what's your thought? Why is this game being played? And man do I feel bad for those two teams playing in this game. And BYU getting invited to this bowl kind of follows what independence is. Yes, ESPN is going to give you a game, you're going to kick off at 8:15 right? Yes, you're going to a bowl game, you're going to play in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It's just where BYU is at. And I understand, BYU doesn't have a great resume, they're 6-6, right. But there's 10 other 6-6 teams going to bowl games and I guarantee every single one of them's a better destination than what BYU's getting.
DH: But in Laramie, if you're thinking about this, you're not thinking that at all. You think he got cheated, you're thinking your conference has a contract with the bowl to put you in and you're sitting home and ...
BG: You're Wyoming, stop it. Wyoming is 6-6. Come on.
DH: But there are people that say you a bowl game is a bowl game and it's a reward.
BG: Yeah, but you're BYU right? Shouldn't you have more cachet than these other 6-6 teams?
DH: And you didn't go to a bowl game last year.
BG: That's true, but it's the worst case scenario. Investigate those 6-6 teams, where they're going to bowl games — none of them are as bad as the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
DH: Utah almost went to the Sun Bowl and I've been to El Paso many, many times.
BG: I'd rather go to El Paso than Boise.
DH: I don't know about that one. But you know here I am, I'm playing devil's advocate a little, but what if you're Zach Wilson, you're a lot of these freshmen, Gunner Romney, you're a Zach Katoa, you're Brady Christensen, you're James Empey, the center, the young corners they have. They've never been to a bowl game before. Yeah this isn't the ideal bowl game but they've never been given that card to go into that room in the hotel and say OK you got $450 to spend on all these trinkets and stuff and you get all this stuff and you're catered to. Yeah Boise, but they've never done any of this. There's coaches, at least one coach that I know, that has never been to a Division I bowl situation in his life and he's trying to turn this around and say hey, let's make the most of it, let's be positive. Let's go out and work hard and play and finish our season. Let's go out a winner, let's get these extra practices, let's progress, let's be a team and go to that. But yeah there's certainly the negative aspect of the label of the Potato Bowl, but there's a lot of positives you could look at too.
BG: A bowl game is better than no bowl game, obviously. But that's another argument. Where have these freshmen been before? Boise, Idaho. We're going back. I mean, props to BYU for getting in a bowl game. It's fine. But it is the worst ball game that they could have.
DH: They're going back, but they'll know where Elmer's is and they can go and eat there. Your favorite place.
BG: Absolutely. Are they catering? Will they be giving the pregame meal?
DH: Well, the bowl game is on tap. I think that the date of the bowl game is good. I think the time of the kickoff, at two o'clock in the afternoon, is very good for our deadlines. And you know, some people criticize and wonder why we're covering late games the way we are. But some of the reason we are, and my boss is sitting right here, is that we have to make a print deadline sometimes and file a story in the fourth quarter when the game's not over. It happened like that in the Utah game where we didn't know the outcome of that game. But yet, we have to write a column and file it and then somebody plugs in the score as soon as they go to print and those things are very hard to cover. This 2 p.m. kickoff is golden for writers and sportswriters and broadcasters and other people that are away from their families. Jeff, you know, you've done this many, many times on deadline. I think that's positive.
JC: Oh yeah. I was really excited about the kickoff time, no doubt about it. The one question I have is you saw that Mountain West championship game last Saturday on the blue turf and you could barely see the blue turf because of all the snow and so I wonder what kind of weather we're going to have and how that might impact the game, and so yeah, it's gonna be interesting to see what happens.
DH: Speaking of putting lipstick on things, Brandon Gurney, give me a grade on what I did in trying to put lipstick on that. Because I did, that was my role.
BG: Yeah you did a fine job.
DH: Talking about putting lipstick, BYU basketball loses to Weber State. Dave Rose, for the first time in his coaching career, loses to Weber State. They allow 113 points. They play almost no defense. They're shooting 28 percent from the 3-point line, which is about 325th or something in the country in 3-point shootings, they're not looking very good. They can't get in front of people, they can't stop them, doesn't seem to be much energy and passion on that team right now. Maybe there's a lot of reasons for that, Jeff Call. But it's hard to figure out and a lot of people are not happy.
JC: Yeah, you know, I was at that game up in Ogden the other night. And it was really stunning. Just the way that BYU played. Just not playing defense and giving up so many points. Again, 66 second-half points. Weber State shot 65 percent, I think, in the second half. And you know, one of the recurring themes of the season from the beginning, one of the concerns has been the 3-point shooting and it hasn't improved. BYU is still struggling. I'm beginning to wonder after watching that Weber State game if their confidence level, which is clearly down in their shooting, is kind of transferring over to their defense, the way they play defense. Because it just seemed like they didn't have that passion. Defense is about you know, getting out there and making stops and having a desire and a will. And it just didn't happen.
And so this is a very critical time for BYU basketball. I mean, as of right now, as we sit here in early December. I don't see this team making the NIT. I mean, and you look at the West Coast Conference, what other teams have done in the preseason. I mean, take Gonzaga out of it, which is ranked No. 1. LMU, San Francisco, San Diego, there have been some very impressive performances by some of these other teams in the West Coast Conference and I'm thinking man, where's BYU going to fit in the WCC? Are they going to be toward the bottom, are they going to be just in the middle? There are some real concerns and I think this Utah State game, Wednesday night, where Nick Emery will make his season debut. But there's a lot of unanswered questions. This team is at a crossroads and Dave Rose needs to get this figured out. Quick.
DH: They've had access to three, four, five Top 100 players by ESPN on the program over the last few years. They've had players like Eric Mika get married and decide to go to Italy. They've had Elijah Bryant get married. He decided he didn't want college life anymore and he's gone. You've got to TJ Haws, one of the best high school players in the history of Utah to get onto the court. He got married some time ago and he's not playing like his old self. I don't know if marriage has anything to do with it. But former players that did not have 4- and 5-star or ESPN 100 players on the roster, did not have a multimillion-dollar practice facility with great locker room, you know amenities and other things, they didn't have that. But they played with more passion than this trip. Trent Plaisted tweeted out the other day, "I try to stay middle of the road about BYU sports, especially basketball, and keep it positive. I understand how hard it is to win and I don't take it for granted. Giving up 113 points to Weber, however, is hard to stomach. And it makes me sad for all involved — the fans, the players and the coaches." And they're going to be playing a Utah State team that is not on the bubble right now. According to some of the rankings they're the NCAA Tournament, by the way they're playing, in the mid to high-30s and BYU's team is probably in the 80s or 90s right now. They're not favored on their home court on Wednesday night.
BG: What's the truly frustrating thing about this team, and I always go back to this. I remember covering a game on New Year's Eve back in 2016. That's when all these guys were freshmen and you thought it was really going to explode and get markedly better, right. And they overcame a huge deficit, rallied and got over that hurdle of a slow start. I thought, man this team is going to take off. It hasn't at all. It reverts back over and over and over again. And the lack of sustained progression and improvement, I think, is the truly frustrating thing about this team. Where you have this young team and yeah, they do that stuff. But they're still doing this stuff even now, and you touched on it, Mika leaving is huge, Elijah Bryant leaving is huge. But I think it's a big thing with independence and with WCC basketball, is I wonder about the real motivation these players have to succeed at BYU. I wonder about the prospect of playing in the West Coast Conference, at the venues they play in, really providing the motivation for these guys to really achieve what they can. I think you have to question that because you just see this over and over again, the cycle of just not meeting expectations, not consistently growing.
I mean, 113 points to Weber. Wow. I mean, it's a really frustrating thing to watch if you're a fan. And even if you're a media guy, because you're trying to create a narrative for this theme. And you're just going back and back and back, and wow, I can't remember BYU basketball being as low as it is right now in recent memory.
DH: Jeff, on the heels of Dave Rose getting a contract extension, in the shadow of his program being put on probation and the shadow of them being asked to vacate more than 40 wins. They come out of the chute like this, you go two ways. You blame coaches, you blame players. A lot of fans want to always blame coaches and not put the responsibility on players. But where do you see this happening? I mean, what is the breakdown here? What's the disconnect?
JC: Yeah, I'm not sure that I know that. Obviously, you know, Dave Rose is the one responsible for what happens. I mean, the buck stops with him, and he's got to get it figured out. And I think, you know, the players also bear responsibility. Obviously, I think it was clear that his players were not performing the way that he wanted, and not the way they expected. And so how to get that changed, I'm not sure. What's going to be really interesting is this new dynamic. Here we are nine games into the season. Now you're gonna throw Nick Emery into the mix. Who's a real X-factor.Are we going to see more of the freshman Nick Emery or the sophomore Nick Emery? What impact does he have on this team?
DH: He was one of their better defenders before he left school for a while. He was a very good defender. The question, I guess, and we'll end it right here. Can he be like the Utah Jazz is bringing in Kyle Korver, can he have that kind of impact on this team as a 3-point shooter immediately? Because that's what they need. Right now they're bleeding, they can't keep up with teams that hit 3s, and they can't stand in front of somebody to stop somebody on a drive. And I question their chemistry and maybe their locker room and what's happening because they just don't seem to have a lot of fight in them.
JC: Yeah, there's something obviously going on behind the scenes. And again, this whole dynamic of Nick Emery, I don't know how that's going to affect things. But my sense is that Nick will probably be eased into the rotation and they'll throw them in there and see what he can do, not put too much pressure on him. But knowing Nick, I think he's the kind of guy that's going to want to come in and make an impact and try to help turn things around. And I don't know if that's going to make things better or worse, or what, but I guess we'll find out a little bit on Wednesday
DH: We're going to talk about a big story in the Deseret News that's coming out, and before we do that, Brandon Gurney, remind us a little bit about the Salt Lake Stallions.
BG: We all love football and bowl season's coming, which means the end of football, but not necessarily. You have the Salt Lake Stallions. And it doesn't end, this February it doesn't. The Stallions begin their inaugural season at home on Feb. 23, all led by former NFL and college coach Dennis Erickson. And you're going to see former players, really good stuff. I mean, football is football. That's the selling point season tickets are as low as a $75. Call 1-833-AAF2019 or go to SaltLakeStallions.com.
DH: Well, you know the Deseret News — and I have to give them my thanks and my gratitude. They enabled me to do something that I kind of always wanted to do the last two decades. I first started covering Ty Detmer when he was at Southwest High School in San Antonio. He committed to BYU after his junior year, was named the high school player of the year in Texas and I followed him intently since then. Interesting person, maybe one of the more popular players that BYU's ever had. Too bad it didn't work out as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for BYU. But it's been a year since then. The Deseret News management enabled me to go and spend time with him in November, right towards the end, at his ranch, the T14 hunting ranch just outside Freer, Texas. My observations about that lifestyle, about what he's doing. Going with him up in a blind, seeing hunters have success, that's all captured in almost a 5,000-word story that's going to run Wednesday. You can see it online at 6 a.m., and it's going to be in print.
But the great takeaway is that Ty Detmer is really a unique human being. His humility is amazing, his skill level at playing football is documented, but the way that he treats people, the way he hosts people, the investment that he's made in 1,300 acres of fenced property in Texas, which is a country kind of like the Serengeti in Africa. He has exotic animals on there. And he has people come from all over the country, if not the world, to come there to pay him a couple of grand to shoot some of his big bucks. We take that all in in a Deseret News story that will be with us on Wednesday. We hope you'll pick it up and read. I think it'll be a good read for you.
Next gentleman we're going to talk about BYU volleyball. If there's one thing going right in the world of BYU sports, it is these women.
BG: A ray of sunshine. They're fantastic. They're the No. 4 team in the country based on the on the seeding going in and they've proved to look like the No. 4 team. There's been a lot of question marks, because BYU ran through the season. Won 27 straight matches, 21 of them in straight sets. I mean just imagine that. There's one match BYU's played this whole year that went five sets. And they played really good teams, they beat the No. 1 team in the country, Stanford, and then it just blows up because their second-best outside hitter, McKenna Miller, gets hurt. And people are wondering about this team. They get swept the final match of the year and it's just like oh my gosh how serious is this injury? Is it really that bad? I've maintained you can overcome an injury like this and it's volleyball. Matches go back and forth. It's a sport where just one night you just don't have it, right? And LMU won its first-round NCAA volleyball match so they're not a bad team at all. But the only validation you need is watching what BYU did against Utah. Utah was a red-hot team coming into the NCAA tournament. They were beating very good at Pac-12 opponents, finished the year with five straight wins, a very, very good team. They got Dani Drews from Brighton High School who is just fantastic, and BYU annihilated them. It wasn't even close.
What BYU has is a lot of depth, I mean McKenna Miller, which is a significant loss, I don't want to downplay that too much, but BYU is still really good. They have some really, really good talent and they're strong at every position. They have Ronnie Jones Perry, who's the front-liner, but they also have a libero — for people that don't follow volleyball, a libero is that little short girl who's just on the ground the whole time bumping the ball, that you kind of overlook. A very, very essential component of any good volleyball team is having a quality libero and BYU's got one of the best in the country in Mary Lake.
DH: Who's playing for Miller then, who stepped in and made plays? You can't lose lose a talent like McKenna Miller and just go along and not have it affect you, but in some ways it's not making a huge impact. She's missed, but somebody is stepping up.
BG: Maddie Robinson is the direct replacement at opposite hitter. A freshman, she's played really well. But I think what's really stepping into the forefront more than anything is the middle block. BYU has two middle blockers. Heather Gneiting, another freshman, a local girl, who's just been phenomenal. She had a phenomenal match. If you look at the one big advantage BYU had against Utah it was middle block. Utah just had no answer for Heather Gneiting and Kennedy Eschenberg who just played outstanding. It's going to be a whole different match against Florida. Because Florida has a lot of size and athleticism, I think BYU's going to be really tested on Friday night. But nothing that I saw Friday night dissuades me from believing the BYU still has the ability to go to the Final Four. They looked outstanding
DH: Jeff, I know that you don't cover volleyball as a sport. But this is a sport that did dominate Utah this year. And I guess that's a plus in the column. If you're looking to competition and rivals in state, they are top drawer.
JC: Yeah, like you said, I don't cover volleyball. But I have had a chance to watch them a few times. And they're impressive. I mean, the team that they have and the consistency and the way they've been able to dominate opponents. I fully expect them to go to the Final Four and who knows, maybe win the national championship. I think they're that good and it would be fun to see. That'd be something huge for BYU to get to the Final Four, maybe even win a national championship.
DH: In our final segment, gentlemen, we're going to talk about recruiting, and this week there's an opportunity to see three BYU basketball recruits. A couple of them have signed already, Wasatch Academy's (Bernardo) Da Silva from Brazil and a kid from China. (Shengzhe) Li. I can't pronounce his first name, but he's going to be playing for Jeff Reinert's team from California, they're coming in. The Great West Shootout. Tell us about that, Brandon, I think you've been involved with that.
BG: Yeah I've covered it most years and yes it's a fantastic event. You get some really high quality players here, plus you get the best teams from Utah, by and large. You get Lone Peak there every year. Orem obviously has really good talent. The talent in-state hasn't been what it was when I first started with the Deseret News but there's still some really good talent. I believe Timpview is going to be there, you can BYU signee Nate Hansen play. Yeah, it's a fun event. I always like covering it.
DH: You know, football recruiting, Jacob Conover from Chandler High School in Arizona. He ends up being one of the most productive and winningest quarterbacks of all time in that state, which is a state that gave you Max Hall, have given you a number of tremendous quarterbacks that have gone on to be successful in the NFL, but he's done something that no one else has and that's take his team to the state championship, what three or four times as a starter.
BG: A really good land for BYU. We talked about it back when he committed, BYU needed a headliner commit and it was Jacob Conover. A guy that had multiple offers and all that. I hesitate just pronouncing him the next great thing because whenever you do that to a football recruit, particularly those that have mission plans, it doesn't always pan out. But just the optics of a kid like that and what he's doing and had a very successful senior year. Very good stuff for BYU football.
DH: Any other recruits and stories that have kind of broken over the last 10 days or since we had our last podcast of interest in recruiting?
BG: Well, what's interesting is there's not a lot of offers that have been made public, but you have a lot of walk-on options. And fans are like, oh, walk-ons, come on. We don't care about that. They just extended one to Braedon Wissler from Bingham, who was just a fantastic football player.
DH: Maybe another Britain Covey.
BG: I hate to compare anyone to Britain Covey, just because Britain was absolutely phenomenal. I don't want to say the best high school player but certainly up there. But Wissler, it's not outrageous to compare him to Britain Covey. A lot of the same skills.
DH: He was named the offensive MVP in BYU's football camp last summer.
BG: A very good skill set, shockingly short. If you stand right by him, shockingly short. But man, Bingham really missed that kid this year. A kid who is versatile, very hard-nosed player. The difference between Wissler and Covey is that Wissler can really run between the tackles and be physical with people, where Britain Covey is all on the edges and all that. Probably not as fast as Britain Covey, not as shifty. But I think just his physical nature, I kind of like him as a defensive guy if he wasn't so short. But I just think as a potential slot receiver, I really like the kid.
DH: Well we've seen what they've done with Aleva Hifo, and if they start running that jet sweep he could fit into that. He's got preferred walk-on status at BYU and at the University of Utah. Do we know where he's he's leaning one way or the other? What's the story on him?
BG: I've heard that he's kind of a Utah guy. I could be wrong. I do know that BYU's an option for him. He likes BYU. From what I was told Utah might be the destination for him, but we'll see on that.
DH: They also made an offer to a running back at San Francisco Community College. You can see that on the internet and his highlights and they're pretty impressive. I don't know if you're familiar with him but they made an offer to him over the weekend.
BG: They need to get a junior college running back. You've got to have that. Absent Ula Tolutau coming back, which I've heard is actually a possibility, which kind of surprises me. But man if he can get back and do it, great on him, great on the program. But absent that, even if they do get him in, you look at the attrition BYU experienced at running back — get as many as you can in this program. Holy cow.
DH: Matthew Hadley injured for the bowl game, out with a broken leg. Katoa questionable, we'll have to see on that. Just a reminder this podcast is brought to you by the Salt Lake Stallions. Get ticket information at SaltLakeStallions.com.
Final word, gentlemen. Just something that stands out in your mind.
JC: I think when Bronco Mendenhall was coach, during the bowl season, BYU didn't use all the allotted bowl practices and that was, as you know, a criticism of him that people had. Kalani, from what he said yesterday, he's going to take every advantage of all 15 practices. He said they're practicing six days this week and six days next week and then bowl week they'll obviously use those. So they're gonna use all 15. That's one of those positives of this bowl situation, to have those extra reps and practices. It's like another spring ball, kind of. Just over a short period of time, but those are really valuable for the future.
BG: I've talked a lot about consistency and lack of consistency with the basketball program. Kalani has been very outspoken about it this year with the football program. That's what you want to see come this bowl game. You want to see that progression. They took a step against University of Utah. I don't care what anyone says, yeah they ended up taking a loss, but being able to go and just pound Utah for three quarters I think was pretty significant. With an upward trend of BYU football and you want to see that continue. Very young team. There's every reason to expect this team to put forth its best game yet in the bowl game because it is a very young team.
DH: Zach Wilson — very impressed with him against Utah in the first half. They kind of went conservative in the second half. That wasn't his fault. I think you got to credit Utah for coming on with their depth and playing and getting after him. Zach Wilson's development in the second half of the season has been impressive. You could look at it statistically, you can break down his pass efficiency that it's gone up. You can see his completion percentage has gone up, you've seen his effectiveness, you can see his arm strength, and see a fundamental soundness that he has. I think it's very important that he'd be involved in football in the month of December and playing in a bowl game. It's gonna be big time help for him coming next year when they start off against the University of Utah.4 comments on this story
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