Kragthorpe: Williams’ suspension will affect BYU at Texas too
Published: August 2, 2014 05:53PM
Updated: August 3, 2014 01:02PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

Provo

Jamaal Williams’ ambitious goal of 1,500 rushing yards this season suddenly is farther away.

BYU’s biggest football game of the year, Sept. 6 at Texas, is now more mysterious.

“Classic Skating” is becoming a catchphrase in Provo, if not exactly a recruiting attraction.

That’s all just part of the fallout of Williams’ one-game suspension for what he described as a BYU honor code violation. Even if the Aug. 29 opener at Connecticut represents only about 8 percent of the Cougars’ season, Williams’ punishment is significant for multiple reasons.

BYU fans already were skittish enough about another season opener in the Eastern Time Zone, after last August’s debacle at Virginia. And now the Cougars will lack a key component of the offense.

The game at Texas the following week means everything to BYU’s national profile, and Williams will not have live contact for about three weeks leading into his 2014 debut. He’ll also miss first-team repetitions until the week of that game.

And because Williams announced his own suspension, the potential remains that other players will face sanctions. If the Cougars are missing any other starters at UConn, the lineup will be further weakened and the same phase-in period as Williams’ will apply to them at Texas.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall stopped just short of acknowledging that more news is coming, although nothing may become known until the Cougars take the field for warm-ups on that Friday night in East Hartford, Connecticut.

Mendenhall’s intention — beyond the bonus of keeping UConn guessing about BYU’s personnel — was to prevent Williams’ suspension from being mentioned every day of August, further punishing him. The unintended consequence of Mendenhall’s approach is that every time another potential starter practices with the No. 2 offense or defense this month, suspicions will be raised about his availability for the opener.

Off-field issues are part of the game every summer in every college program. A well-known athletic director likes to say that if his school’s name appears in print in June or July, that can only be a bad thing. Well, newspapers do generate enterprising summer stories beyond the police blotter, but it’s a fair point. Utah and Utah State have their own problems these days — and so does Texas.

Williams handled the discussion of his suspension with candor and class, joking about how he intends to spend his nights at Classic Skating & Fun Center in Orem. In case you’re wondering, an all-day roller skating pass is $6 and an hour of “unlimited fun” with other activities is another $6.

The junior running back insisted he’ll be disciplined and focused for remaining two years at BYU, making that sound like something between a wonderful opportunity and a sentence.

As for the Cougars’ ability to thrive in his absence, some history lessons come into play.

BYU missed star receiver Cody Hoffman (injured) last year at Virginia, where the offense produced only 16 points. Ironically, while Williams carried the ball 33 times, the play everyone remembers came when Taysom Hill’s pass bounced off Williams’ hands and was intercepted and returned to BYU’s 13-yard line, leading to Virginia’s winning touchdown.

The Cougars easily survived the losses of Hoffman (suspension) and Williams (concussion) in a 37-10 win over Middle Tennessee, but that was a low-level opponent. More telling is Hill’s workload in 47-46 victory at Houston. Williams was injured in the second half, so Hill totaled 78 plays of running and passing in the game, accounting for 545 yards.

That’s asking a lot of a QB, but it resembles what Hill may have to do for BYU to beat UConn. I would label that volume of quarterbacking effort fun, with limits.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com