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Dick Harmon: Facing stout Washington, Wisconsin defenses, Ute and Cougar receivers need to elevate their game

SHARE Dick Harmon: Facing stout Washington, Wisconsin defenses, Ute and Cougar receivers need to elevate their game

MADISON, Wis. — Catch the dang ball.

That’s the message this week for Utah and BYU receivers who are not named Britain Covey or Moroni Laulu-Pututau.

If there was ever a time BYU and Utah needed pass catchers to bring their artistry to the big stage, it is this weekend in Madison and Salt Lake City.

The Utes and Cougars are facing defensive maulers in Washington and Wisconsin this Saturday. These are defenders who can cover, run with the best, apply pressure, tackle like four-legged creatures of the Serengeti. These defenses are formidable, just waiting for something that can give them pause to sigh a little or even laugh.

And there’s no better occasion than a dropped pass.

It’s the ultimate out.

Receiver coaches Fesi Sitake at BYU and Guy Holliday at Utah have to be on high alert. They’ve worn out the Jugs machines, mechanical ball launchers that replace flesh and bone passers so they can crank up the volume of reps.

They've preached eyes and hands, called in hypnotists and psychiatrists. They’ve thrown tennis balls, golf balls, volleyballs and eggs at their receiving corps trying to prevent drops and draw out the kinetic power of fingers and the palms of hands.

OK, I’m imagining it.

Dropped passes are the equivalent of throwing paychecks in the toilet. And there were plenty of flushes last week by both Utes and Cougars.

We saw Dylan Collie drop a long bomb in LaVell Edwards Stadium. That’s genetically an anomaly. In his three years in a Cougar uniform, Dylan Collie’s older brother Austin may have dropped just one, maybe two passes.

Generally speaking, it’s in the mind. It is focus, desire and pride. And accountability. If you can touch it, you catch it.

BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes told reporters this week that Tanner Mangum completed 64 percent of his passes against Arizona, and against Cal it was 54, with five dropped passes. “If you count those, he would have completed 66 percent. That makes all the difference in the world.”

Fesi Sitake said his receivers are hungry and anxious to prove themselves and came to practice this week with a chip on their shoulder.

Sitake witnessed a few drops in fall practice and said he was surprised it surfaced Saturday on one hand, but not surprised on the other.

“Surprised because these guys have been such a consistent group throughout fall camp, but last week there were some inconsistencies that surfaced and I thought that showed. It’s a good lesson learned and unfortunately, it was a loss. These guys understand what the impact would have been on the game if some of those catches had been made.”

A chorus call from all BYU coaches, he made it self-reflective.

“It falls back on me. I have to do more so we can catch those balls in those moments. We need to clean it up.”

I asked Fesi if there is a danger in preaching and over-emphasizing the issue if it could lead to pressing like a free-throw shooter or golfer who is working to fix a technique or swing.

“Like a golfer, you always have those rounds you can fall back on, those things that brought you success. These guys know who they are. If this was a habitual thing, I’d be worried. We’ve watched the film, they’ve been making great plays this week. They are seeing who they are and what it takes. The message is there, they’ve learned a lesson and I think they’ll respond well.”

Holliday, a great follow on Twitter because of his philosophical gems, most recently posted the following:

“Your destiny is up to you. You will face adversity and disappointment in your journey to success. It’s your choice how you react. Never confuse failure with a temporary setback to your goals. Failure is when you QUIT TRYING allowing temporary to become Permanent."

Drops? Just don’t.

They’re killers.

And now, this week’s picks:

  • Northern Illinois 21, Central Michigan 17: Huskies rebound after scaring Utah.
  • Hawaii 42, Army 27: Warriors have some serious offense.
  • Auburn 28, LSU 21: Late turnover dooms Tigers.
  • Arizona 24, SUU 14: Kevin Sumlin 0-3? Nah.
  • ASU 24, San Diego State 21: Watch out for the desert Devils.
  • Fresno State 24, UCLA 23: Nice pickup for the Bulldogs.
  • Washington 28, Utah 24: Husky defense proves too tough.
  • Texas 34, USC 27: Longhorns have more experience.
  • Oregon State 21, Nevada 17: Beavers flap some paddle tail.
  • Oregon 42, San Jose State 17: Spartans can’t keep up.
  • Houston 38, Texas Tech 31: Houston speed rises up.
  • Florida 27, Colorado State 24: Florida dominates on the line.
  • Oklahoma State 34, Boise State 31: Could be a shootout.
  • Wisconsin 38, BYU 17: Cougar defense sorely tested.

Last week 10-4; Overall 28-19 (.678)