EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Considering BYU was on the road, playing without five key players due to suspensions and starting several young players at key positions, the Cougars were dealing with plenty of unknowns going into the season-opener at Connecticut Friday night.
But BYU (1-0) overcame that, and more — including 15 penalties — in its convincing 35-10 victory over the Huskies at Rentschler Field.
With running back Jamaal Williams, wide receiver Devon Blackmon, defensive lineman Marques Johnson and cornerbacks Jordan Johnson and Robertson Daniel unavailable due to suspensions, their replacements stepped up.
Sophomore Michael Davis and freshman Jordan Preator acquitted themselves well at cornerback while center Tejan Koroma and left tackle Ului Lapuaho turned in solid performances on the offensive line. Without Williams, BYU rushed for 205 yards.
As the Cougars prepare for next Saturday’s big game at Texas, will those suspended players be back on the field?
“That is the hope. They all have very specific things they have to do. I think they will,” coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “And I’d be very surprised if not all five were back. But throughout the course of the season it could change back and forth. They have very specific criteria that they have to continue to work on and live by and everything will be just great. They will have 12 more games. There will be mistakes along the way and teachable moments. It could be (on) Thursday you ask me and then wonder why they don’t play as of this point, I expect all five to play.”
Meanwhile, Mendenhall loved what he saw out of quarterback Taysom Hill and the offense.
Hill completed 28 of 36 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 97 yards on 12 carries and two more touchdowns. With Williams and Blackmon in the lineup, the offense could be even more explosive.
“We have an excellent offensive system. There are a lot of moving parts schematically to make it hard to defend,” Mendenhall said. “When you consider possibly adding another running back into that mix and possibly adding another receiver into that mix, then cleaner play with the supporting cast, especially up front to what Taysom is already capable of, I think you can see the potential. That’s what’s exciting to me. Not necessarily the execution collectively (Friday) but there was absolutely flashes of what this is going to look like. Much further ahead in the opener this season than a year ago. It’s a great point to start from.”
Hill felt confident and well-prepared for UConn, but he felt a little uneasy before the game.
“It was unique for me because most of the time, I don’t get that nervous before games,” he said. “I was in the hotel and I was really nervous, like I was in high school again. Looking at it, it’s because we had a lot of unknowns (including two freshmen starting on the O-line). I knew we had prepared well, and that we were primed for a good result, but there were still a lot of unknowns.”
Hill said the suspended players had good attitudes and were supportive.
“They handled themselves very maturely in a way that didn’t distract from the team,” he added. “They ran scout team and gave us good looks. Our corners on scout team last week were pretty good and it allowed us to get better.”
BYU's defense allowed only 71 rushing yards and 10 points to UConn. The Huskies had five trips inside the red zone and came away with only one touchdown.
“That was huge,” said safety Craig Bills. “That’s something we focus on when they get into the red zone, we need to stop them. That was big for our defense and gave us confidence that we have going into our next game.”