Provo • Before the BYU Cougars even started their 70-play scrimmage on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, a sense of uneasiness swept through the crowd of about 5,000.
That’s because prized recruit Nick Kurtz, the 6-foot-6 receiver from Grossmont Junior College who is expected to replace Cody Hoffman as Taysom Hill’s go-to pass-catcher this season, was on the sidelines with a walking boot on his left foot.
After the scrimmage, coach Bronco Mendenhall confirmed the bad news: Kurtz has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot and will miss 6-8 weeks.
“So, yeah, luckily we have depth at receiver at this point, but that will hurt us, because he was doing a really good job,” Mendenhall said.
Later, Mendenhall told KSL radio that Kurtz “had been the standout of camp, up this point. But he will be back the majority of the season.”
The scrimmage consisted of 13 possessions and some special teams work that was miserable, at best. Two of punter Scott Arellano’s punts were blocked (both by Nate Carter) and twice punt returners muffed booming kicks as Michael Shelton and newcomer Keanu Nelson let the football slip through their hands.
The Cougars tried just one field goal, a 50-yarder by Andrew Mikkelsen that had the distance but was wide left.
The kicking game “has a lot of work to do,” Mendenhall said.
Of the 13 possessions, only three ended in touchdowns, with Taysom Hill leading two TD drives on his six possessions, and backup Christian Stewart leading one. The offense had to punt eight times and committed just one turnover — when freshman QB Hayden Griffits was picked off by Grant Jones in the final series, and Griffits’ first.
Still, Mendenhall said the offense was a bit better than the defense, after the two units were “50-50” against each other the first full week of camp.
“I thought the offense won the day today, if I had to say one or the other,” Mendenhall said.
There were no significant injuries, although offensive tackle De’Ondre Wesley was helped off the field.
“We got about 30 reps for our ones and twos. That’s about what we wanted,” Mendenhall said. “We saw a lot of things, starting with [being] a little bit sharper offensively than I thought we would be. Play-action pass speed is strong at this point. Protection is stronger than what I anticipated at this point. And then we ran the ball off tackle better than I thought we would at this point.”
The coach said the defense had a “decent start” but needs to work on being more physical.
“It didn’t sound the way I would hope it would sound. That’s how I gauge defensive intensity. Not enough things that made me turn my head and say, ‘whoa, who was that?” Mendenhall said.
Coaches held out a lot of projected starters, including running back Jamaal Williams, whom Mendenhall said was slightly dinged up, and receivers Mitch Mathews, Jordan Leslie and Ross Apo. Tight end Devin Mahina (ankle) and offensive linemen Michael Yeck (broken toe) and Tuni Kanuch also did not see action.
Sitting out on the defensive side of the ball were linebackers Bronson Kaufusi (hamstring), Zac Stout (hamstring) and Manoa Pikula (academics), safety Craig Bills (hip flexor), cornerback Rob Daniel and safety Dallin Leavitt.
Along with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Hill to Mitchell Juergens and a 23-yard TD strike from Christian Stewart to Devon Blackmon, the highlight of the day was a 20-yard run by Adam Hine in which the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hine leaped over two would-be tacklers.
“Hine did a nice job, and we saw as the scrimmage went, a little bit more creativity, and a little bit more confidence with each rep,” Mendenhall said. “Obviously, the one play that stands out is when he went airborne in going over two guys that went down.”
Hill, who completed 9 of 15 passes for 98 yards and the TD, gave the offense a six on a scale of 1-10 for its level of sharpness.
“We have to clean up some of the three-and-outs and some of the little miscues on assignments and stuff,” he said.
Stewart had a slightly more efficient day, completing 12 of 17 passes for 116 yards.
Defensively, linebacker Jherremya Leuta-Douyere led the way with six tackles, and defensive coordinator Nick Howell said that cornerbacks Michael Davis and Jordan Preator also played well.
“We didn’t stop the run nearly well enough,” Howell said. “That’s the biggest takeaway that I took from it.”
BYU scrimmage highlights
• Quarterback Taysom Hill leads two touchdown drives and throws a 39-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell Juergens.
• Backup QB Christian Stewart throws a 23-yard touchdown pass to Devon Blackmon.
• Walk-on defensive back Grant Jones forces the only turnover, intercepting a Hayden Griffits pass on that freshman QB’s only series.