If Cade Fennegan gets the nod Saturday against SMU in the New Mexico Bowl (5:30 p.m., ABC), he will become the first Texas quarterback to start a bowl game at BYU since the program’s most famous Texan — Ty Detmer — started against Iowa in the 1991 Holiday Bowl.

Detmer’s advice for his fellow statesman is simple.

“Don’t try to overdo it. Play within the offense,” Detmer told the “Y’s Guys” talk show on Tuesday night. “If it’s not there, check it down. I learned the hard way that first game.”

Detmer made his BYU debut as a freshman in 1988 at Wyoming and threw four interceptions in a 24-14 defeat. He turned the tough lesson into a learning tool that put him on course to winning the Heisman Trophy three years later.

“You have good teammates around you — guys that can make plays,” he continued. “I’m sure A-Rod (Aaron Roderick) will put a plan in place to get him some completions early and get the ball in the guy’s hands and let him settle in a little bit.”

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Fennegan hasn’t taken a live snap in a game in 25 months after transferring from Boise State before the 2021 season. With Jaren Hall limited at practice due to a high ankle sprain, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound redshirt freshman has been preparing to play.

Detmer’s early look

While BYU fans haven’t seen Fennegan on the field in Cougar blue, they did get a sneak peek two years ago when BYU beat Boise State 51-17 in Boise. Fennegan came off the Broncos bench and threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns.

Detmer, the Cougars’ offensive coordinator between 2015-17, had seen Fennegan years earlier on a recruiting visit to Woodrow Wilson High in Dallas.

“I went down and watched him practice. He’s one of those kids who understands the game. He’s smart. He didn’t overwhelm you physically at the time, but I’m sure I didn’t overwhelm anyone my whole time at BYU,” Detmer said with a laugh. “I thought he threw the ball accurately and had a nice touch on it.”

Fennegan transferred to BYU after the 2020 season when Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin left for the same job at Auburn. He worked on the Cougars scout team last year while preparing for a chance to play.

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“I know he’s probably excited, champing at the bit to get some more reps,” Detmer said. “There might be some rust to shake off with game speed, but he’s a kid that’s been around football and he’s grown up with it.”

 Detmer’s bowl debut

What Fennegan does with his moment remains to be seen, but Detmer knows all about the opportunities a bowl game can provide. After falling behind 14-7 to Colorado in the 1988 Freedom Bowl, the freshman replaced Sean Covey in the second half.

Two Jason Chaffetz field goals and a 14-yard touchdown pass to Chuck Cutler lifted the Cougars to a 20-17 victory. The win was a game-changer for Detmer, and he knew it.

“I kinda did,” he said. “Sean had knee surgery, so he didn’t participate which kind of cleared the way to take the reps and become a leader during spring practice.”

Detmer took the reins of the offense for the next three seasons.

Getting older

One of Detmer’s backup quarterbacks at BYU was Garth Fennegan, a young transfer from Clemson, who met his future wife Amy at school. Now, the proud parents anticipate their son Cade taking the field as the first Texan since Detmer to start a bowl game for the Cougars.

“That’s been a long time. I’m getting old,” Detmer said, with his boyish grin still very much intact. “I got the senior discount pitch at the sandwich place down here in Texas the other day. The lady asked me if I wanted it. I said, ‘Do I really look that old?’”

It’s been 31 years since BYU’s brightest star from the Lone Star State marched the Cougars into the postseason. Fennegan, a bonafide “shooting star” is hoping to update history and make a Texas-sized impression while beating the Mustangs.

“That would be great!” Detmer proudly said of his fellow statesman. “I like our odds.”

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com. 

BYU quarterback Ty Detmer scrambles during 1991 Holiday Bowl against No. 7 Iowa in San Diego.
BYU quarterback Ty Detmer scrambles during 1991 Holiday Bowl against No. 7 Iowa in San Diego. The game ended in a 13-13 tie. | Mark A. Philbrick, BYU Photo