East Hartford, Conn. • They will get no style points for this one, and coaches will have plenty of mistakes, bone-headed penalties and other miscues to point out in film sessions next week, but the BYU Cougars got what they needed most after last year’s opening-game debacle on the East Coast.
A road victory.
In a herky-jerky performance marred by penalties and a couple of turnovers that allowed the game to stay closer than it probably should have been, the Cougars cruised past UConn 35-10 in front of 35,150 fans at Rentschler Field and a national television audience.
"Overall, a nice first game, a nice win, and I feel good about it," coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
But there were plenty of warts, blemishes the Cougars can’t afford if they hope to knock off Texas next week in Austin. Penalties and turnovers killed drives, and some stupid late hits and personal fouls prolonged UConn surges. It was ugly at times, but through it all junior quarterback Taysom Hill played brilliantly, a far cry from his performance in the opener last year at Virginia, a 19-16 loss.
"He played like an All-American, which he definitely is," said receiver Mitch Mathews, who caught a beautifully thrown 26-yard pass from Hill early in the game to give the Cougars a commanding 14-0 lead.
The Cougars did it without five suspended probable starters — Jamaal Williams, Devon Blackmon, Marques Johnson and cornerbacks Robertson Daniel and Jordan Johnson. Mendenhall said all five will play next week if they adhere to "specific criteria" he has given them after honor code violations in the offseason.
They were hardly missed, as Michael Davis and Jordan Preator filled in admirably at cornerback and Mathews, Paul Lasike, Algernon Brown, Adam Hine and Terenn Houk gave Hill all the offensive weapons he needed.
Houk’s 35-yard catch and run for a touchdown was Williams-like, giving the Cougars a 28-7 lead after UConn grabbed some second-quarter momentum with its only TD. The Huskies’ TD came after a drive-killing fumble by Mathews, and the crowd briefly came alive, but Hill would have none of it.
"I thought Taysom did a really nice job managing the game regardless of the miscues that were happening around him in terms of penalties, turnovers," Mendenhall said.
Prediction: If Hill plays like he did in front of ESPN cameras on Friday night next week at the home of a more credible opponent, he could vault himself into the Heisman Trophy picture. He was that good on a perfect night in the Northeast, at least for viewers who weren’t turned off by the never-ending stream of penalties and the lopsided nature of the game.
The junior completed 28 of 36 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns and ran 12 times for 97 yards and two scores, including a 26-yard scamper with 4:06 remaining.
"I was pleased. I thought my decisions were good," Hill said. He credited an offensive line that he said allowed him to get hit just once when he was throwing.
Like last year, BYU had trouble finishing, after taking a 28-7 halftime lead. The Cougars didn’t score in the second half until Hill’s late TD run, missing a 33-yard field goal try by Trevor Samson and fumbling near midfield (Brown) to thwart another promising drive.
"I thought we lost a little bit of our edge at halftime, as we came out, missed the field goal early on," Mendenhall said.
In the first half, however, the offense was dominant.
The Cougars took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards for a touchdown before many in the traffic-delayed crowd had found their seats. Hill capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
UConn fumbled on its first play — Jherremya Leuta-Douyere, who got the start at inside linebacker, forced the fumble and Bronson Kaufusi recovered. Hill found Mathews open down the middle on the next play.
"Confidence," Mathews said. "We have never had that much confidence going into a first game."
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