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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

Dick Harmon: BYU victory comes with 4 rookies getting first career starts

By Dick Harmon, Deseret News

Published: Fri, Aug. 29 9:40 p.m. MDT

 BYU enters the stadium to play the Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014.

BYU enters the stadium to play the Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., on Friday, Aug. 29, 2014.

(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — BYU used a rookie night of sorts to defeat the UConn Huskies Friday night 35-10.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall entered Friday’s season opener at UConn without announcing he’d suspended five potential starters. What he did do is give four rookies their first career starts.

Cougar star junior running back Jamaal Williams, transfer receiver Devon Blackman, corners Jordan Johnson and Robertson Daniel and defensive nose guard DeMarcus Johnson were all missing in action Friday night at Rentschler Field — they didn’t even make the trip.

Mendenhall countered by starting freshman Jordan Preator at boundary corner out of necessity. Other freshmen making their Cougar career debuts were center Tejan Koroma, left tackle Ului Lapuaho and combo punt returner/receiver Mitchell Juergens, a sophomore who'd never played for the Cougars.

"I was especially impressed with Jordan Preator,” said Mendenhall. With experienced corners, probably starters left in Provo, that may have been an understatement.

Taysom Hill, who was not sacked in the game, praised the two freshmen blockers.

“The freshmen offensive linemen played great. I have to look at the film, but for a first game, they did a great job,” Hill said.

“I’ll have to look at film, but overall I thought the freshmen did a nice job. I thought Koroma did a great job out there for what we put on him,” said offensive line coach Garrett Tujague.

They all had their moments in a penalty-plagued BYU win over UConn from the American Athletic Conference, helping BYU to a 19-2 record over teams from that league.

Statistically, Juergens struck the most noticeable numbers with two receptions for 19 yards and two punt returns for 24 yards. He caught a short sideline pass from Taysom Hill in the first quarter and raced 43 yards down the sideline, but the play was called back on a penalty.

But 6-foot-7, 333-pound Lapuaho and 6-foot-0, 280-pound Koroma got in plenty of tough trench work and valuable experience protecting Hill and opening up holes for the rush game in their rookie starts.

Praetor had a solid outing defending UConn’s NFL draft candidate Geremy Davis and speedy senior outside receiver Deshon Foxx. He had three tackles and two breakups.

"Jordan Preater was my sleeper pick back in February. I reminded my staff of that because he knocked down three or four passes," said Mendenhall. "I was really happy for him."

Mendenhall replaced Williams with Adam Hine, and Michael Davis took a spot that would have been manned by Daniels or Johnson.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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1. ute alumni
SLC, UT,
Aug. 29, 2014

It is good utah isn't playing the cougs this year. Itwould not be a pretty sight. Mark it down.

2. worf
Mcallen, TX,
Aug. 29, 2014

What happen to Trammel, and Trey Dye?

3. EPoint
Roy, UT,
Aug. 29, 2014

Hope the 5 players left at home realize they are replaceable, playing is a privilege not to taken for granted. BYU's depth saved them, though the penalties, so many of them, were embarrassing. The freshmen who played got valuable experience. Glad they got the win.

4. Wiscougarfan
River Falls, WI,
Aug. 29, 2014

I agree with ute alumni. If BYU can beat UCONN--a team that recently played in a BCS bowl--and not play five starters including the star running back, get called for 14 penalties, and still blow them out... just imagine what they would do to the Utes. It wouldn't be pretty.

5. Riverton Cougar
Riverton, UT,
Aug. 29, 2014

"Wow whisc , bwahahah dude tds couldnt beat us last year what makes you think this year is any diff "

Yeah, Wiscougarfan, didn't you know that since the Utes won last year, there is a 0% percent chance of BYU ever winning again against Utah? Studies have shown that the team who most recently will win the next game. Always.