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Podcast: Should Cougars be wary of an impending 'perfect storm'?

Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake shouts encouragement in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.
BYU coach Kalani Sitaki shouts encouragement to the Cougars in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

We hope you enjoy listening to this episode of Cougar Insiders and hope you will consider subscribing. You can find and subscribe to this and other podcasts from the Deseret News at DeseretNews.com/Podcasts.You can also find us on iTunes, on the Apple Podcast App or on Google Play. And remember to rate this episode and write us a review. We'd love to hear from you through email at cougarinsiders@DeseretNews.com. The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.

Dick Harmon: In this edition of Cougar Insiders podcast, we're going to break down this big Utah State-BYU game. There's a lot on the line. This is huge. The Aggies are coming in. They're angry. They're upset, they're disrespected. We're going to talk to you about the Washington-BYU game and break that down, and why BYU lost that game. Were they prepared? Did they come in confident, or were they just second-guessing themselves the whole night? We'll pick that apart. We'll also tell you about a feature that we're doing in the Deseret News about Nick Emery and the challenges that he has in coming back to his BYU basketball career. That and more coming up on the Cougar Insiders 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. We're coming to you from Thanksgiving Point, and we're talking BYU sports. A big loss for BYU in Seattle, a game that really had a lot on the line. But I think the moment was probably too big for BYU, the way they played. They played tight, they made mistakes. We saw one of the best drives that BYU has had of 93 yards. It had five penalties in it. This is a team that has only been averaging about seven penalties a game. We saw a fumble right before halftime in a 14-0 game that completely turned this whole game around. We saw defense make some mistakes. Very, very conservative play. Not enough pressure on Jake Browning. We saw a Washington team that you've got to give all the credit in the world for. They are a top-10 team. They've got a great defense. They have speed that BYU hadn't seen out of the running back position. Myles Gaskin's a 4.4 sprinter. It was too much, too big of a moment for BYU, Jeff.

Jeff Call: Yeah, and I think in that first half you saw some glimpses that, hey, maybe BYU can compete with these guys. But those two drives you mentioned, the one where they picked up 93 yards and this kept getting penalty after penalty, that was very deflating. Came away with no points. And then the fumble at the end of the half. You kind of got the sense that when Washington went up 21-0 that this thing's over. BYU is not equipped to come back from that big of a deficit, especially against a team like Washington. And it was disappointing for BYU too — and then second half you kind of knew where it was going and they were very fortunate to even get on the scoreboard. They could have gotten shut out.

DH: A lot of the mistakes they made I think we're minimal. I think that they were trying too hard. You had Matt Hadley come in to play linebacker, he hadn't done that all season long, he got a little bit deep on some of his drops in that zone that they're trying to play. Defensively, BYU wasn't able to put pressure. But I really thought, Brandon Gurney, on defense that Washington had a great game plan to stop that four- and five-man rush on them. They literally quote-unquote "held on the corners" on the defensive line, and they didn't get caught with it very much, but then they started getting caught with it and officials were calling holding regularly on the Washington defense, but they were stout and they were very strong and it was something that BYU wasn't prepared to overcome. Thus you had Jake Browning out there while they were worried about Gaskin running the ball on him, he was just sitting back there with all kinds of time to throw. Set a Washington record for percentage.

Brandon Gurney: Well, the defense kind of handicapped itself a bit. I didn't see more than a four-man rush throughout the game until late they started to bring some different pressures and all that. But they were really trying hard to protect that back end, probably to too big of a degree when you're talking about a quarterback as experienced as Jake Browning. He's not going to rush into throws, he's going to take his time, and 23, 25, man it was a (Alex) Hornibrook 2017 all over again. BYU was pretty helpless. But we can't overstate just how good Washington is, though, as a football team. A lot of fans are all my gosh, oh, that was terrible and all that. Well, Washington is really, really good. You're talking about a team that went to the college football playoffs last year and acquitted itself pretty nicely in those playoffs. And they had a lot of players back, a lot of those key components. This is a top-ranked team. This is absolutely a top-10 team nationally, and I think you have to qualify that with BYU's performance, and also a team that's able to match what BYU can bring physically, coupled with speed that Wisconsin didn't have. And it's a bad recipe for BYU.

DH: Well, this is a team that is the Pac-12 darling. They are the crown jewel of the Pac-12, and they're a team that took BYU's best recruit away from them in the final weeks last year. Brandon Kaho, from Reno. Linebacker who ended up going to Alabama, actually, but he was BYU's best recruit — they just came in and took him away. They have all kinds of athletes out there. Jeff Call, this was never going to be a win for BYU on my book heading back into last spring and summer, yet it probably turned out to be a score a little bit more than I thought it could be. I thought BYU could at least score two touchdowns on them, and looking at it, they probably should have.

JC: Yeah, and I think it just comes back to what we've talked about. I mean, you can't make that many mistakes against a team as good as Washington. With all the deficiencies that BYU has, doesn't have the speed Washington has, doesn't have the athletes Washington has, they've got to play a very clean game. And they didn't do that. I mean, if they would have scored on that one drive we talked about, you know early on. I think, you know, who knows what may have happened. I just don't think they would have won the game, but to keep it competitive. And that's what they wanted, to get competitive in the fourth quarter, just weren't able to do that. Again, that turnover was just a backbreaker for BYU late in the first half.

DH: Well, one bad piece of news, Brandon Gurney, out of that is that they lost one of their best receivers, Moroni Laulu-Pututau. What a sad case for a guy that was coming up, making big plays, and how does that affect this team now? We did see Matt Bushman make an appearance for 38 yards. A huge play on that one drive.

BG: It is nice that you had a guy like Matt Bushman to back up Moroni, but still, you've gotta feel for the kid. I just feel for these guys. He's a really, really nice kid, first off. Why does it always have to be the nice guys this happens to, right? But it's a big loss — you have a guy that was leading the team in receptions coming into this game, a guy that was really finding his own way at tight end, a really, really good athlete. He's gone. He's gone again for another year. And it's going to be really sad if we're never going to be able to see this kid realize his full potential at BYU, because I've maintained that he has a load of talent. Ever since I saw them playing for Mountain Crest against Timpview in the 4A state championship game, I've been high on this kid. He's an exceptional athlete. And hopefully can make it back and stay free from injuries. Because he deserves it.

DH: Well, Ed Lamb had an opportunity to address this game and talk about the responsibility and where that lies. He had an opportunity to talk about that on the "Coordinators' Corner," something he does every Monday with Greg Wrubell. Let's listen to that soundbite right now:

Ed Lamb: Coming out of the game, my initial impression was that we just weren't ready, mentally, to have our best game and coach our best game. And we needed to against a really, really strong Washington team that — either they played their best or we made them look like they played their best. But they're incredibly sharp and fast and powerful. I thought they really blocked well on the edges, and thought they played really stout on defense. And, frankly, when we needed our best game I don't think we were prepared to coach or play our best.

Greg Wrubell: Looking back on it, could you have seen any warning signs going in that you were bound to have that kind of performance?

EL: I think coach Sitake did a good job all week of emphasizing, the way he phrased it was doing common things in an uncommon way. But the point of emphasis of the meaning behind that was to do little things right. And not just in football, but in life with studies, or the way that you keep your locker clean or your locker room clean, how often you're staying in touch with your family. And what he felt like was that this potentially could be a game where we had a lot of pressure as coaches and players, and he felt like focusing on other areas of life, and the details within the game of football would help us not to over-consider the magnitude of the game and the opportunity we had to play in a primetime game with two ranked opponents. And in the end, I thought Washington was just more ready to answer that challenge. The truth of it is they're more used to playing in that environment and they were at home and those were big challenges for us. I would like to play the game again. Sometimes after losing soundly you don't want to play that opponent again. I would like for our guys to get the opportunity again now that they know what it felt like, where it was, the overall feel of the stadium, the game, the magnitude, the preparation week. If we could do it all over again, I know we would play and coach much better.

DH: So Ed Lamb kind of places the blame of that, Jeff Call, with the coaching staff. As you heard him talk a little bit later on with the defensive coordinator, they said that they came in and actually used a lot of real soft zone coverage and they felt like as coaches that they maybe took the aggressiveness out of their defensive players in doing that. Maybe they should have just said, hey go up and man on the line of scrimmage as far as coverage goes, let's cover these guys, let's let you guys, we recruited you for this, let's put you out there and let you do that. When they didn't do that, they thought that maybe they took a little bit out of their players' hands and that was not fair to them.

JC: Yeah you're right, and I think BYU's secondary — we've talked about this — is a work in progress. They've got some young guys back there, and you also have, you know, Dayan Ghanwoloku who's not there. He hasn't been there for a couple weeks, and I think you know losing Zayne Anderson and Dayan these last couple weeks — they're fast and they match up pretty well with what Washington does, and that's just a big hole, it's a lot to ask of guys to come in and fill those holes.

DH: Was it always going to be a win for Washington? I believe, Brandon Gurney, but this team is 3-2, this is something that I thought was maybe the best thing that you can ask for out of a BYU team, 3-2. A lot of people are unhappy, but 3-2 is pretty good.

BG: If you asked any fan prior to the season if they could come out of September — and I've been talking about September all year long, just how difficult it is going into that stretch after — 3-2 was the absolute best-case scenario. No question. I don't think any realistic fan had BYU better than 3-2. And you look at what this team has done — a lot of people didn't think 3-2 would come with a win against Wisconsin, but it did. Which was maybe even a bigger plus in that regard. You take where BYU was at this time last year, Washington just kind of throw it out if you can. It's a really, really good football team. It was like the case, Kalani said it today, where his team played its worst game and Washington played its best. Those things happen. You have to look optimistically. It is not just a one-game season. BYU's done really well acquitting itself and improving a lot from last year. And if you just take the big picture mind, 3-2 going into October? Absolutely a great scenario and a lot of things to be optimistic for BYU football.

DH: And I think of the science of football, you know, I think it was Tom Holmoe who said 40 percent of the time, you're going to play your very best; 40 percent of the time, you may not play very well at all. And you know, 10 percent of the time you're going to have to be lucky to win or you'll be very, very unlucky to win on a bounce of a ball, and that's kind of what happened. BYU didn't play very well.

Now from social media, let's talk a little bit about what's the topic of the day? Fire Tuiaki, fire the defense's coaches.

BG: One game against Washington — fire them all, they're terrible.

DH: Jeff Call, is that the call that we're hearing right now?

JC: Well, of course not. I mean, look two weeks ago, we were talking about — after that Wisconsin win — how BYU out-coached Wisconsin, the game plan was brilliant. Everyone executed the way they're supposed to. Now, two weeks later, they don't know what they're doing. And so I mean, its typical knee-jerk reaction to things that happen. You know, I just think that you've got to take the big picture. And again, this is a situation where I don't think anyone expected BYU to be in this spot. And if you compare it to last year, you didn't get the second win of the year till November, if you remember, October, late October. Yeah. And so I mean, they've come a long way since last year. And you've got to be patient. I think Aaron Roderick said last week when we talked to them that in terms of the offense, they're trying to build something here. They're trying to build something long-term. It takes time. It takes patience. And you know, of course, as fans you're going to look at it and say, from week to week, you're going to judge it. But in reality, this is a long-term process, and you kind of have to see it that way.

DH: Brandon Gurney, I've always maintained that BYU has very little margin for error, that they're always living on the edge, that they're overachievers. They recruit overachievers. They're not going to recruit the kind of guys that Washington has, so they have to play well every week, they have to play above themselves. And the margin for making mistakes and errors is really, really small for BYU. They make mistakes and errors that take them right out of games. That's what happened, what we saw last week.

BG: Yeah, that Lopini Katoa fumble, I hate to pinpoint one guy, but that, I mean, that's just like absolute, no way, you're done — 21 to nothing. That's just too much for this team. We talked about before, for BYU to score even 21 points against a team like Washington? Even on a good day is probably too tall of a task. But they're gonna have to put some points up this coming week against Utah State. They're going to have to get going offensively, at least that's my belief, to keep up with the Aggies. Which I guess we'll touch on later.

DH: I'll touch on it right now. This is a big game for BYU. It's a big game for the Aggies, even though it's out of conference for them, the Aggies have the perfect setup for themselves like they usually do. They beat BYU last year. They have the ultimate chip on their shoulder. They're seen as the third-best program in the state. They're neglected by the media. University of Utah refuses to play them, they'll play Northern Arizona, they'll play Weber State, they'll play northern whatever it is, but they will not play the Aggies. They're disrespected. They watched BYU become ranked in the country — No. 25 and then No. 20 for two weeks they were ranked. And the Aggies didn't get any kind of recognition. In the locker room at Utah State, they have recruits that have been rejected by BYU and Utah, they have players on their team that came off BYU's roster, they have everything to talk about leading up to this.

BG: They don't even have Dallin Leavitt anymore.

DH: Plus they got two weeks and a week off, BYU's got a short week, only three or four days to prepare for them. It's a perfect storm. BYU better be ready.

BG: Absolutely. Utah State can do some things and what you're going to see from Utah State are big plays. They have two running backs that are guys that can beat you on the edge. You look at how they've been doing their work, it's big plays. And I've celebrated BYU's ability to minimize big plays. They are absolutely going to have to do that against the Aggies. It's not a grind-it-out team, it's a team that could beat you on the edges, a very good balanced attack with their quarterback and their running game, and I think big plays is going to be the thing. If they can minimize those big plays, I don't think Utah State's a team that can grind it out and put forth long drives against this BYU defense, which I believe is the defense before Washington. I think BYU matches up well in that regard, but you've got to have Dayan Ghanwoloku and Zayne Anderson back. I believe that both of them will probably be back. Kalani was very optimistic about both those guys this week and you absolutely need those guys to help minimize those big-play opportunities, which Utah State's taken advantage of. But they take an advantage against Tennessee Tech, New Mexico State, Air Force, I mean, yeah they scored 31 points against Michigan State — that's kind of the credibility game right there, even though they lost. But yeah, very dangerous game, no question.

DH: Jeff Call, how concerned should BYU's defense be about Jordan Love?

JC: Very concerned. He's a very talented quarterback, he can run, he can throw. BYU needs to be aware of him. And kind of one of the storylines we've seen is BYU's inability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. It's going to be another chapter of that same story this week. They're gonna have to do it, and you know, Brandon, you're right, I mean Utah State has not had that impressive of a schedule, other than Michigan State, but if you look at it, I mean, they went into East Lansing and played very well, had a chance to win that game. They're not gonna be intimidated coming into Provo. I think they average over 50 points a game. And even if it was against lesser opponents, I mean they're playing with confidence. They believe they can move the ball, they believe they can score, and then you have a BYU team coming off a week where you know, they gave up a lot of points, and confidence is may be a little bit suspect. So that's kind of one of those factors you have to throw in there. And like we talked about, for Utah State, this game means a lot.

BG: Utah State wasn't able to run the ball against Michigan State. I think that's a very notable thing, that they had no ground game. They were able to do it in other factors and all that. I think that's notable because when you look into the opponents, I think that's what's most comparable to what BYU's going to present defensively, especially up front, is probably what Michigan State posed against the Aggies. And I think with that in mind, I think if BYU can make Utah State one-dimensional, cut down those big play opportunities and limit the rushing attack, they should be OK in this game.

DH: You know, some of the most memorable BYU-Utah State games are out there. I remember the one with John Walsh going up, I think was up to Logan, and he threw for tons of yards, 600 yards or something, you know, the points are up there. And they lost, Jeff.

JC: Yeah, so I kind of — off the top of my head compiled some of these memorable games over the years. It's amazing when you look at that, so you go back to say, 2002, the game where we all thought Ben Olsen — this is going to be the debut of Ben Olsen and BYU's down 34-7 at halftime and thinking OK. …

BG: Didn't the parents fly in to come see their son?

JC: And you're thinking, OK, here we go, here's the Ben Olsen era, and then all of a sudden Bret Engemann trots out and leads this incredible comeback and BYU wins that game 35-34. And then let's fast forward to 2010, you remember that game up in Logan. BYU gets just pounded and the next day, general conference, Bronco Mendenhall fires Jaime Hill. I mean …

DH: Jaime Hill called me and said, I've just been fired. I texted back, "what?" He says, "yeah, I just got fired."

JC: Yeah, the day after the game he gets fired, Bronco takes over the defense.

BG: Probably the first time Jaime Hill talked to any media member all year.

JC: True.

DH: He broke a rule, he texted me.

JC: So I mean you know that game, that changed the course of the season because Bronco took over the defense that next week. And then the next year, 2011, was the game where it was essentially the end of the Jake Heaps era. He got benched, Riley Nelson, a former Aggie, comes in, leads this incredible drive. Last-minute dramatic comeback, touchdown victory to Marcus Matthews.

And then the next year we have this era of all these quarterback injuries. So you've got 2012 — Taysom, the end of the game suffers a season-ending injury; 2013 — Chuckie Keeton for Utah State, season-ending knee injury. 2014 — BYU is nationally ranked, undefeated, all this momentum, Taysom Hill Heisman talk, he goes down with a season-ending injury. Totally changed the course of that season, of course. 2015 — Dick, remember that game? We're up there. We drove in a snowstorm up to Logan. It was cold, we get up there a couple hours before the game. And there are snowplows clearing off the field. And I remember we're standing right next to Bronco, remember. And he's kind of looking very pensive, very reflective. No one knew that would be his last. That was his last regular-season game as BYU's coach and BYU, of course, won that game. 2016 — end of the game, Taysom Hill injured again, season-ending injury against the Aggies. And then, of course, last year was it seven turnovers? Six or seven? Yeah. BYU led, they were up 21-7, then Beau Hoge looks like OK, this guy's figured it out. He's gonna lead this team. And he gets hurt. Some turnovers. I mean, this game has really been one of these games that kind of changed the course of the season for BYU. And I think you know, this is shaping up with the schedule that could be again if BYU can win this game, it gives them a lot of momentum going forward. If they lose this game, I mean, who knows where we go from here.

DH: Thanks for that trek down memory lane, Jeff Call. Let's talk about basketball for a little bit. In the Deseret News this week, we're going to run a story on Nick Emery. Nick Emery is in the middle of coming back from the abyss. I mean, if people knew the things that have happened in his life, which he has not described in detail yet, a divorce, some injuries, coming home off his mission early for surgery, things that have happened the past year, being stalked by media members, being stalked by a private detective outside of restaurants, him basically talking about anxiety and depression and suicide, and then for him to try to come back this summer and then have something like appendicitis and have a surgery that took him out six weeks, this kid has gone through the mill. We're going to highlight that in the Deseret News this week. We've talked to some people, I think it's going to be interesting. This is a team that I think has a lot of potential, and Nick Emery is part of that, but he's a long ways away from being where he was.

BG: You want to see change within this basketball program. You want to see something that makes you believe that this team can get out of that rut it's essentially been in since Jimmer Fredette graduated. It's essentially been the same team every year. Is it an NCAA Tournament team? It's really hard to make that argument, even with Nick Emery coming back. There's two things that I hang my hat on when I think that BYU's going to take the leap forward. I maintain TJ Haws is a star in the making. We haven't seen what he can do yet. I think with Quincy Lewis taking over, a guy that knows his strengths and all that, and he's got to have the ball in his hands. I'm very high on this kid when he has the ball in his hands. When I saw him camped out at the 3-point line just basically do nothing on offensive sets, what's the point of that? You have one of the best playmakers I think has ever passed through BYU's program — use that. I think it's going to be utilized, and I think he's going to play to his strengths and have a really, really good year. And paired with Nick Emery, I think that can take off. And I really like the potential of Yoeli Childs, and Gavin Baxter's, I think, a kid with real potential. I don't know if you're going to see it immediately because I still think he's kind of raw, you're not talking about a guy who's highly developed coming out of high school and whatnot, so that might take a while. But I think on the defensive end he can have a big impact.

DH: Jeff Call, we had Heath Schroyer come to town with his voice, with his emphasis on defense. He got after these players. He got after them hard. He brought a lot of great things to BYU basketball. But he also brought some discontent and some people that were frustrated with him. And he's gone.

JC: Yeah. So it's going to be once again, kind of a new look for this team. I think Dave Rose is hoping that this team will continue to play hard-nosed defense like we saw, play better defense than they have. I think Heath kind of brought that and instilled that. But I think we will see more up-tempo, kind of like what we've seen in the past from this team. And one thing about this team that I've noticed, too, I think will work to BYU's favor is for the first time in several years they actually have a lot of upperclassmen, guys that have experience. They're not going to be relying so much on freshmen and sophomores. Now you've got a couple seniors, but you've got a bunch of juniors who have been around, who have, you know, they know what it's like to go through the West Coast Conference schedule. They kind of know what Dave Rose expects. And so I think that will help this team, just to have more experience.

DH: Final word, fellas. This is a big game this weekend. The Aggies are coming to town, BYU has not played very well at home. Their home record is not very good over the past seven or eight games. I don't think they played very well against McNeese State. They did come back after a very, very ugly first quarter and win that game, going away they could have scored even more points. But, Brandon Gurney, they have got to play better at home than they have.

BG: Oh for sure. It's been one of the most curious things over the years, just in recent history, that they have not played really well at home. You need to establish that home-field advantage, and just make sure Utah State can't come into LaVell Edwards and win. That just can't happen if you're BYU, as far as recruiting goes, as far as all sorts of perspective is concerned, that is something that just can't happen. This is a really big game. I think it's a make-or-break game this season. I think it's going to tell a lot about where BYU goes, where BYU is. Jeff mentioned just before the podcast, OK, everything's settled down, you have those five games out of the way, we're going to really find out what BYU is coming up soon. And it starts with Utah State.

DH: Jeff, your final word on this game.

JC: Just that it's big. I mean it's national TV, it's Friday night. A lot of people will be watching this game and this is a chance for BYU to show that OK, they didn't play well last week at all, but they're still heading in the right direction. And this is the game to do that, at home against an in-state rival. I think Utah State's a very good opponent. I mean, this isn't the Utah State from years and years ago where they really struggled. And for Utah State, like you mentioned before, Dick, this is a big game for them. In-state game, get some respect. And this is just as big for BYU at this stage.

DH: And now before we do our picks of the week for this BYU-Utah State game, well, I'll tell you about GridPicks. I personally pick those 14 games each week, there's gift cards to be won. Test your knowledge and luck at Deseretnews.com. Your predictions, fellas. Jeff Call.

JC: I'm going to say BYU wins it 27-24.

BG: I seriously was going to say 28-24, but Jeff Call took that out. It needs to be low-scoring. If it's high-scoring, I don't like BYU's chances, just as far as getting into a shootout. I think you have to limit what Utah State does, and I think it's kind of been overstated what Utah State's done because they've relied on big plays against inferior opponents. I think BYU's going to limit those opportunities and I think BYU's going to win. Since Jeff Call completely kifed my prediction, I'm gonna go BYU 16, Utah State 10.

DH: OK, I'm going to say that turnovers are the difference. And BYU gets more takeaways because the ball is going to be up in the air a lot. There's a lot of things that can happen. I think BYU gets some speed back in the secondary. It's a 2 1/2- point favorite by the Las Vegas folks that BYU will win this game. I'll say 27-24 BYU.

BG: That's exactly what Jeff Call predicted.

DH: OK, Jeff and I work well together on the road. We think a lot. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Cougar Insiders podcast. We'd love to hear from you through email at cougarinsiders@DeseretNews.com. And please subscribe or download our podcast wherever you find it. We're working to deliver you the most up to date information on BYU sports. Would love to have you join us. Thank you.