Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the sixth episode of Cougar Insiders — a podcast from Deseret News writers Dick Harmon, Jeff Call and Doug Robinson. It's been edited for clarity.
Dick Harmon: Coming up on this edition of Cougar Insiders podcast you're going to hear a little bit about Tanner Mangum. Did he do enough to keep his job? Should his job be in jeopardy? Is his job on the line? Is Zach Wilson somewhere in the background, is he going to be thrust upon that? We'll be talking about that. Also breaking down the BYU-Wisconsin game. BYU going into Big Ten territory and taking on a top-10 team. And then we've got a special guest that's going to talk about the Hall of Fame status of Todd Christensen, why he should be in the Hall of Fame and why this is really kind of a big neglect on the part of the NFL. That and much much more on this edition of Cougar Insiders.
Hi, welcome to Cougar Insiders podcast. I'm Dick Harmon, columnist for the Deseret News, along with Jeff Call, who is a longtime beat writer covering the Cougars. And we're going to dissect the Cal game and look forward to a trip to Wisconsin where BYU will play the No. 6 team in the country. Jeff Call, kind of a disappointing loss to the Cal Bears in a lot of big ways after a win at Arizona, but maybe a lot of surprises also, that we just didn't expect in that game.
Jeff Call: Yeah, I think one of the things that really stands out to me was the number of dropped passes. I didn't expect that, I thought that based on what I saw the week before that, you know, they were much improved in that area, and they would secure the ball and things like that. But they released some critical ones. And one that really stood out to me was that deep one to Dylan Collie, if you remember, would have put BYU in great field position and it looked like it kind of bounced off his fingertips a little bit. He had two guys on him. I don't know if he heard footsteps or whatever. But that was a big one, that's kind of a momentum-changer, I thought, for BYU.
DH: And I thought too, that BYU's offensive line had played so well against Arizona and it turns out Arizona maybe is a little bit weak, but they did impose their will down in Tucson against that Pac-12 team, and in this game I think they did OK in the first half and they seemed to be dominating at times, if you look at the stats, they dominated in time of possession, they dominated in the total yards, they had more I think plays, but in the end is you take away from it in the third quarter, all of a sudden they're stuffing BYU's offensive line, they're pushing them back, they caught Squally Canada a couple of times for losses, he never gained any more yards in the second half after putting up about 46 in the first half. You think he's on his way to maybe 22 carries and maybe a 100-yard performance and that just did not happen.
JC: Yeah, I think BYU ended up rushing for 6 yards in the second half and they had a total of 11 yards of total offense in that third quarter. It was almost like this complete flip from what we saw in Tucson, where BYU came out third quarter, imposed its will, dominated, opened up holes for Squally Canada to run through and then that just kind of disappeared in the second half.
DH: You know, BYU in independence is going to take on these kind of games. They're going to play Power 5 opponents. They're gonna play teams from the Pac-12, from the Southeast Conference, from the Big Ten next week. And that is what independence life is going to be. This is 50/50 now against this team. Is BYU biting off more than they can chew in playing these teams?
JC: Well, I think by virtue of being an independent team, you have to do that. I mean, that's what Tom (Holmoe) from day one said when he unveiled this independence idea was that, you know, we're going to travel around and play all these great teams. And I think as part of staying relevant nationally, you've got to do that. Now, the interesting thing, of course, about scheduling is you never know what you're going to get when these games are scheduled two, three, four years in advance how good they're going to be. And now BYU's facing a situation where they've got, you know, No. 6 Wisconsin this week, they've got another great team in Washington coming up here in a couple weeks. And yeah, it's tough, but that's the position BYU's going to be in. And, you know, the truth of the matter is, if people really want BYU to be in a Power 5 conference, they've got to get used to the idea of playing these kinds of teams.
DH: And having that kind of a record too. I mean, look at the University of Utah last year, they didn't have a winning record in the Pac-12 and they ended up losing the division. And that's just kind of the way it is when you play big boys — you know, the way I look at is this, Jeff, and you alluded to that is that you've got to put on your big boy pants, you've got to recruit better, you've got to hire the right coaches, you've got to prepare better, you've got to have your players playing at a high level. And that's just part of being — if people want BYU to be in a Power 5 conference, you have to play like it, you have to act like it, you got to recruit like it. And your program has to be that way.
JC: Yeah, and I think we've talked about this before. But bringing in a guy like Jeff Grimes, who's been around the SEC, has been around some big-time football throughout his career, a lot of different conferences, you know, he's brought in to basically mold this program and to recruit to its strengths and what it can do to be successful, and starts with the offensive line. If they get an offensive line that's dominant, BYU can recruit great offensive linemen. We've seen in the past, and if they can build on that foundation of getting those guys. And of course, they've got to improve in other areas as well, but it starts on the offensive and defensive lines, and that's where Kalani Sitake wants to build his program, and that's how you can compete with these big boys is by competing in the trenches.
DH: Well, ESPN has gone to bat for BYU, they've asked them to play some teams in some hard places. Some of that's going to come back to them in the next few years. But an inside look at what happened in the press box, Tom Holmoe went around. It's kind of interesting, though, because he's friendly to us and that. But he went far out of his way in that game to go around to each of the members of the media coming from Berkeley, California. And a lot of them covered him when he was the head coach there. And when he played for the San Francisco 49ers and has four Super Bowl rings, their play-by-play broadcaster is a guy that Tom Holmoe has known almost from the beginning. He covered Steve Young and did play-by-play for the San Francisco 49ers. Tom was going around glad-handing those guys, he was walking by and says where are the Cal media? And he went right over there trying to build relationships, to welcome them to BYU, and he's acting and trying to do the things to welcome Power 5 competition. And we saw that in the background there in that game.
JC: Yeah, like you said, Tom has really deep roots in northern California. Coached at Stanford, coached at Cal, this great career with the 49ers. So yeah, I think Tom sees that as part of his job is to be able to bring exposure to BYU football and by scheduling these games all over the country. And that's part of what he's trying to do.
DH: Very disappointing loss, 21 to 18. BYU had plenty of opportunities to win that game. If they make two or three more plays. That's what it boiled down to, two or three more plays they can win that game. It was not that big of a disparaging thing for BYU to be on the field with Cal. In fact, Kalani Sitake said that, you know, 21 points is good enough to win:
Kalani Sitake: You know, they were patient with the run. They kept us on our heels with the pass game, because they did a lot of quick throws, a lot of timing throws, and then times that they did do some drop back was a little bit unconventional — whether it's the, you know, the Wildcat and look, and just taking a step up, and then just really doing more like a play action to buy more time for their five-step. And so it was a great strategy for them. Bought them more time. But we weren't able to get enough pressure and enough knock back up front. And that's a problem for us. So if we're going to try to be more disruptive on defense it needs to come from the D-line. But I think Cal did a great job of keeping us on our heels and just keep us guessing. It wasn't like they were just dropping back and throwing five-step, drop back pass every time. They mixed it up, even moved the pocket a lot. And then they sustained drives, they won too many first downs and they were able to get third-and-short and we weren't able to get out of our third downs. And so that's an issue for us, you know, and so we'll keep working on it. But I mean, we scored seven points, we scored a touchdown on defense and created two turnovers. You know, the hard work and effort paid off in that aspect, but just couldn't get off of drives. But, you know, you tell me, 21 points I think should be enough to win that game.
DH: You know, Jeff, there's a lot of different things that are going on on the football field. A lot of them, you know, deserve kind of a rest of the story thing. And maybe you could tell us the story of Skyler Southam and maybe how things are going to change.
JC: Well, you know, I was watching that game Saturday night, you know, you see BYU get into Cal territory, I think BYU got into Cal territory six times and came away with one touchdown, one field goal. Now there are other opportunities BYU had, whether they went for it on fourth down or there's a turnover. But you know, BYU has, I think, an unused weapon to this point. And it remains to be seen how this plays out during the rest of season, but I really think that Skyler Southam, who's a freshman kicker at BYU, just returned from a mission. He was a high school All-American out of Wasatch High. He has got a powerful leg. I mean, his range is up to about 55 yards. That's something we have not seen at BYU in quite a while. The kicking game has been pretty inconsistent. We haven't seen many guys that can kick you know, deep. Have the opportunity to kick 50 yard-plus field goals and Skyler Southam, even though he's just played two games of college football, he's got that potential. And so I think we're going to see him being used more. And I think in the type of games BYU's going to play where there may be some close games, there may be some opportunities where you can't squander opportunities to score. Put him out there, instead of maybe going for it on fourth-and-2 from your own 20, maybe throw him out there and get some points. And I think that's something that Kalani said yesterday that he likes to see and do more, although he also said I like to go fourth-and-2.
DH: Well, that would probably be the one criticism I had in that game, Jeff, is that he, you know — and I praise him for being aggressive. I think that's a good attitude, because you're showing your team that you believe in them, and that they can get a fourth-and-1 and convert it and continue to go down. But on that particular situation in that game, they got down there as a fourth-and-1, they used Beau Hodge, brought him and he hadn't played very much, he hadn't been in a game, and then they called upon him to carry the ball on the fourth-and-one and he did not get that. That would have been a perfect opportunity to use Southam to come in just get three points on the board and relieve everybody the pressure and say, let's let this kid go to work and make a point. And that ended up being maybe one of the critical plays in the game is not getting that fourth-down conversion.
JC: Oh, I agree. And I think, you know, everyone wants to score touchdowns. I mean, that's what the fans want to see. That's what you want, to score touchdowns. But there's got to come a point where you realize we need to get some points on the board, even if it's just three. I think that's a huge morale-booster and a confidence-booster just to get some points on the board and start out that way. Because, like you said, that opening drive, to come away with nothing after putting together a pretty good drive is deflating and, as you see at the end of the game, you look back and think, wow, these are some opportunities that BYU really missed out on.
DH: Jeff, you know I always have written and I maintained this in the 43 years that I've covered BYU football, is the biggest you know, other than the offensive line you gotta win the trenches, but the one biggest factor, and we've been in cars and airports talking about this. The biggest factor in BYU having success against Utah and against other teams is the play of the quarterback. That the quarterback needs to make conversions. He needs to move the chains. He needs to get touchdowns. He needs to finesse his way through a game to overcome the talent gap and the speed gap. And when you see a Max Hall, you see a John Beck, you see any of the great names that you have, they have done that. They found a way to make one or two of those big plays to make the difference in the game. Now in that game, I think Tanner Mangum did not make some plays that he could have and right now it's raging all over the message boards and the internet that you know maybe they ought to make a change, maybe they ought to go to Zack Wilson right now, that Tanner is a failure, that you're seeing some of the old things that happened in the past. I don't know that I'm on that boat yet because there were so many things that happened in that game, Jeff, that we're not his fault.
JC: Yeah, I think as you go back and look at some of the plays and things, and we talked about this, we touched on you know, the dropped passes. Maybe the blocking that kind of fell through a little bit. But you're right. It all starts and ends with the quarterback, and Tanner Mangum has shown in his career, his very up-and-down career, that he's got the capability of making those plays and looking like the kind of BYU quarterback that everyone expects. Then there have been times when he hasn't. As far as those calling for Tanner Mangum to be benched, I think right now the timing is not good. I mean when you're going into No. 6 Wisconsin I don't think you really want to trot out a true freshman quarterback at Camp Randall Stadium, kind of throw him to the wolves, so to speak, and see how he does. I think that could really hurt his confidence. I mean, could shatter it, really. I think you give Tanner more chances, let him play through it, and see what happens. You've got McNeese State at home the following week. Let's see what happens this Saturday and then maybe we can make some decisions that way. I mean I don't know if changing the quarterback would make a difference in the outcome or anything like that. But let Tanner keep going. See what he can do.
DH: I agree with you. I don't think it's time yet. I think there is a time that that could happen. But right now you're in the middle of a battle. You need your most experienced players out there going into this game in Madison. We're going to break down that game and talk about what it means. They have not lost a non-conference to an opponent that's non-conference in 15 years. Jeff, that's a great streak in Madison It's a great place to be. We've been there before, Camp Randall. We got kicked out of the parking lot stadium when we peeked in there the day before the game last time we went there. So, Jeff Call, anything is possible. What is your prediction for this game, score wise, whatever.
JC: I'm going to say Wisconsin 34, BYU 16.
DH: I think I like that. I think BYU will play better. But they're going to be overwhelmed. Wisconsin is very, very good. I would say 38 Wisconsin, BYU 17. I think they're going to get a field goal here. Maybe even two. But I think it would be about a 17- to 18-point win for Wisconsin. We do want to invite you to join us with the Grid Picks in the Deseret News. You can go to our website at DeseretNews.com, look in our sports section, click on that, and sign up for the Grid Picks. You can make a profile there for yourself, hop on, it's a lot of fun, you can win gift cards, there's 14 games a week. I picked those games on Friday for Saturday's paper, they're online Friday night, but they're available — I make them up on Mondays and we get them in to the sports editor and they go through that process so Grid Picks at Deseret News.com. You know we failed to mention, Jeff Call, that we need to excuse Brandon Gurney. He's taking his nephews and nieces down to Disneyland, something that's been planned for a while. So the segment on recruiting we'll pick up again next week. But we want to excuse Brandon. Great guy, works hard. But in his place, at least for today in this edition, we've got Doug Robinson, an award-winning columnist for the Deseret News, who's done great work. You've probably read his stuff. He likes to do a lot of in-depth things and figure out things and get behind the scenes. Doug, welcome to our podcast today. We appreciate you being here.
Doug Robinson: Thanks, Dick. Glad to be here.
DH: Tell us a little bit about this column that you did and the research you do on Todd Christensen, one of the most devastating tight ends that didn't play tight end at BYU, but fullback, but regardless what has been a tremendous athlete. And when he played for the Raiders, he was just knocking down people.
DR: Yeah, well, in the course of researching another story, I stumbled on the name Todd Christensen and I noticed he had great numbers. Actually I knew that, but I started looking into and I thought, I'll bet he's in the Hall of Fame. And I started looking into and he's not — I'm talking about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And I thought, well, that seems kind of strange to me. So I started poking around on the internet and found a few references to it that wondered why he wasn't in the Hall of Fame, that he was deserving. But really, there hasn't been much about it for the last few years. And so I thought, well, this ought to be something I explore. And so I ended up calling his son Toby and we talked about it a lot. And there is a really strong case to be made for him to be in the Hall of Fame.
DH: What are the steps and the requirements? What are those requirements that meet the threshold to be inducted?
DR: It's purely a media-driven thing, and it can come late too. Some people might wonder, well, it's too late now. He hasn't played since 1988, and he's had his chances. But it doesn't work the same as pro baseball. For instance, Jerry Kramer just got in the Hall of Fame 50 years after he played. The media kind of took up his cause, a couple guys did start promoting his cause. Oh, Kenny Stabler finally got in after 32 years, I think just in 2017. And he'd been retired for 32 years. And he had been dead for one year. And he got in. So I think.
And that's what speaks to one of the problems with Christensen's case is that — and Toby brought this up that the fact that the Raiders have moved around so much over the years they don't really have a loyal media backing, they don't have a Dick Harmon or Jeff Call pushing their cause, his cause. And you know when he was there they were in Oakland and then in his fourth season they moved to L.A. and then they moved back and now they're getting to ready to move to Las Vegas in the next year or two. So there's some belief that he just doesn't have the backing and there's reason to suspect that because a lot of great Raider players are not in the hall. For instance, Lester Hayes. I don't know if that dates me. I met him in Las Vegas signing autographs in a Walmart.
DR: Oh really, shows you how far he's come. Cliff Branch isn't in there, Tom Flores isn't in there. He won a Super Bowl as a player and as assistant coach and he won two as a head coach and he's not in the Hall of Fame.
DH: Is this an anti-Raider thing?
DR: You know that's where they're going with this.
DH: We got to get Raider nation involved here and get a little bit of a thing going. What needs to be done, what could be done?
DR: Well, people write in or write to their local sports writer or write to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There's a guy online named Jeff Taylor. He calls himself the "Chandler of football." And he's the one who took up Kramer's cause and probably was instrumental in getting that done. And he also has made a list of players he thinks are deserving. And Todd Christensen's name's real high on the list.
DH: Well, be sure to read Doug's story in the Deseret News. He's done some research on that. Doug, finally, what is the biggest couple of plays that you think that Todd should be remembered for. And we ought to tell people that Todd did die a few years ago, unfortunately, from liver failure. He had fought that for a while, for whatever reason, far before his time, 57 years old, died very, very young, left a beautiful wife and children, one of his children I think is handicapped and they have struggled you know, during their lives, trying to make a life for him and taken right at the time of his life when he could have been a major contributor. Was a voice as a broadcaster, and very colorful, and did a great job. Worked with the Mountain West network, but just a tremendous guy. What stands out in your mind about what he did?
DR: I think the 1983 season, more than one play. He was kind of groundbreaking. We look at the numbers that people produce now in the game and we look at what they used to. And it's not even a fair comparison, because now it's been transformed into this flag league. Basically, it's a passing game. But when Todd Christensen caught 92 passes in 1983, it was the second-most receptions by any position and by far the most by a tight end, and in fact somebody went back and looked at — retroactively put all the players into a — scored them by fantasy points and they went retroactively, even players who played before they had fantasy football, and surprisingly enough, guess who had the greatest season ever by a tight end? Todd Christensen in 1983. He beat out Gronkowski by a couple of points. And he did it in an era when — well Gronkowski's team threw 100 more passes than his team, than the Raiders did. So it's kind of amazing what he accomplished. Five Pro Bowls, won two Super Bowls. I mean on any level he passes the test. Three 1,000-yard seasons. which is tied for the most by a tight end ever. There are eight tight ends in the Hall of Fame and his numbers compare to any of them, or surpass. It's not really fair to put Shannon Sharpe into that conversation, because he was basically a wide receiver and the game had changed, so he's kind of the outlier, but Christensen's right there with the others.
DH: There you have it, an inside look at something that I think BYU fans ought to get behind. I mean, this is important. One of your own is being neglected from the Hall of Fame and he deserves to be in. Doug Robinson has clarified that, amplified it, and brought all the facts and figures to you. We invite you to read that in the Deseret News, Doug, thanks for being a part of this program, this podcast today.
DR: OK. Thank you.
JC: I want to tell a personal story about Doug really quick. Back in the early ’80s my dad was on a flight from L.A. for business. And sitting next to him was one Doug Robinson. And my dad started talking to him, they chatted, and my dad said to him, hey, my son wants to be a sports writer. Do you have any advice for him or anything like that? So Doug took out a little piece of notepad, and he wrote down there, gave me some "Dear Jeff," he didn't know me, of course, so he said "Dear Jeff. You want to be a sports writer. I encourage you to read everything you can and write as much as you can, you know, best of luck, Doug." And my dad brought it home to me and I got it. I was just like ecstatic because I grew up reading Doug and idolizing his talent and things, and so to be his colleague is really a cool thing. And it just meant a lot to me that he would take the time to do that.
DH: And we appreciate Doug, and that's just another story you'll find here on Cougar Insiders podcast, and we're glad to have Doug. Thanks. This portion of the Cougar Insiders podcast is brought to you by Cougarfan.com. Cougarfan.com has the latest news about all things BYU from football and basketball to all the teams in between. And of course, what you would like to have in a fan site. Don't be without a message board. Leave your hot takes on Cougar rumors all at Cougarfan.com. We also invite you to find this podcast wherever you look. And subscribe for podcasts. Cougar Insiders, that's us. Let's break down the Badgers. Let's go right to Madison. We're going to be there in two days. Jeff, we had a great time the last time we went there. What a tremendous setting for a football game.
JC: Yeah, Camp Randall is an impressive place, and I didn't realize it ’till we went there, I think it was five years ago, that Camp Randall got its name from it being a place where the soldiers on the North side during the Civil War encamped for quite a while. And so if you walk around Camp Randall, you see a lot of monuments to soldiers, to generals, to President Lincoln. It's really kind of an impressive thing. So for those that are actually making the trip, take some time before the game to walk around. It's a really cool atmosphere. You got the jump-around thing, fourth quarter, which is a really cool experience. The press box actually sways back and forth, so yeah, it's a great environment for college football.
DH: One of the best venues I've been to watch a college game, and the spirit of the fans there's tremendous. You saw when they came last year to Provo. They like to drink, Jeff. And when you're walking in that stadium, you have to almost step over bottles.
JC: Yeah, and I remember the place where they stick us for the media for parking is like six or seven blocks away from the stadium. So I remember after we finished up our work after that game, Kurt Kragthorpe and I were walking to the media parking and yeah, we had to step over some inebriated people laying in the street and we finally made our way there. We got lost a few times, we got there, but it is a great place for college football, like I said.
DH: Jeff, this is a serious football team. They are ranked high for a reason, they have a tremendous amount of strength in their offensive and defensive lines, they have a running back that you'll talk to in just a minute that is tremendous, a big-play artist, maybe going to become the all-time leading rusher in the history of Wisconsin football. On Sports Illustrated, if you look at the magazine, the college football kickoff magazine and you spread out the spread. This is called a center spread that they have, they have a picture here that takes up the two pages and it's of the offensive linemen for Wisconsin sitting at a Red Robin restaurant. And they have piles of hamburgers and fries and, you know, chicken and malts and milkshakes and they're all laughing and they're just having a good time just stuffing their faces. I kind of wonder though if maybe this might be the Sports Illustrated jinx because on the cover of that magazine is Arizona's quarterback, Khalil Tate, and they're demanding hey, just give him the Heisman right now. The guy hasn't even rushed for 30 yards total in two games. Jinx?
JC: I would say in Wisconsin's case no, they're not on the cover. But you know, they are legit. I mean, this offensive line is regarded as the best in the country. We saw that up close and personal last year when they came to Provo. They just like to grind people, manhandle, control the game, that's what they do. And you mentioned Jonathan Taylor. He leads the nation right now in rushing. I think he had 285 yards last Saturday in the win over New Mexico State. Alex Hornibrook, the quarterback. We saw him come into Provo last year, I think complete 18 of 19 passes, one of the most efficient performances I've ever seen. He's kind of picked BYU apart. They've got a receiver, AJ Taylor, who is very talented and so yeah, BYU's got their hands full. BYU coaches did a great job game planning for Khalil Tate. On the defensive side, BYU's going to have a challenge trying to contain that Wisconsin offense.
DH: Final word, Jeff. If BYU is going to make independence work, they don't have to win all of these games. But they do have to be competitive. And I would expect that this BYU team, working on some mistakes that they had last year, they're going to have some things happen to them in this game, because Wisconsin's just flat out good. But they cannot afford to have their own mistakes and their own stopped drives because of dropped passes, missed assignments, penalties, having a receiver go downfield illegally, which brings back a big play like they did against Cal. They have to step up and be competitive in this game. And anything can happen. Can we predict that they're going to beat Wisconsin? I don't think so. But it can happen. Anything can happen. If there's one thing that we've learned the last couple of years in college football is that anything can happen on a Saturday.>Comment on this story
JC: Yeah, I think in regard to that, you know, Wisconsin, yeah, they're an incredible program. Kalani talked yesterday about how he wants BYU to kind of emulate Wisconsin, the way they play. So I guess Saturday if you can't see a win there you can at least see how much progress have they made since last year. And then my final word, I got a couple things really quick. One is I'd like to congratulate the BYU women's volleyball team. They're ranked No. 1 in the country. First time they've been No. 1 since 1986. Great accomplishment for that program. And now they play Utah this week. Big game. And then the final thing I want to say is, so 17 years ago today, 9/11, we all remember. When I think of 9/11 I think of course of all the events that happened that day. But one of the things that stands out most to me is driving to Provo that day, hours after the attacks. And of course, my mind wasn't on football. I had a story to do and going down there, arriving at the practice field. This is of course, before the indoor facility was built. This is before the student-athlete building that stands there was built, and arriving to park and looking at the practice field and seeing all the players kneeling down praying, praying for the victims, praying for comfort, for peace. And it's just — even at BYU, a very religious school, as we know, you don't see that very often. We don't get to see the team praying. But they were there on the practice field. You were probably there too that day, Dick. And it was really impactful. And this kind of reminded you of the importance of sports in the whole scheme of things. And anyway, that image of the team praying has always stuck with me.
DH: I appreciate those thoughts, Jeff. And appreciate our listeners on this Cougar Insiders podcast. We invite you, again, to subscribe, to download it, and find it where you find your podcasts and join part of our team. We appreciate Doug Robinson being with us, and thank you very much.
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