BYU football: Cougars answer some unknowns in opener, still face others
Provo • Taysom Hill admitted it after Friday night’s outstanding performance in BYU’s choppy 35-10 win over UConn as the Cougars opened the 2014 season successfully some 2,000 miles away from home.
The junior quarterback experienced some anxiety prior to the game, not sure how many of his young teammates would perform in front of a national television audience.
"I was in the hotel talking to [backup quarterback Christian Stewart], whom I room with, and I am like, ‘man, I am nervous. I feel like I am in high school again, or something.’ Looking at it, it was just because we had a lot of unknowns," Hill said.
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The Cougars answered many of those questions. They dominated the overmatched Huskies, who looked every bit like the team that went 3-9 last year and is rebuilding under new coach Bob Diaco.
"We were starting a freshman center [Tejan Koroma], starting a freshman left tackle [Ului Lapuaho], first time playing with Jordan Leslie, Adam Hine in the backfield [instead of Jamaal Williams]," Hill said. "I knew we had prepared well, and we were primed for good results, but there were still a lot of unknowns."
He even answered some questions with his own play, throwing the ball more accurately than in 2013 and refusing to force throws into coverage. If there was something to nit-pick about, it was his penchant, at times, for giving up on pass plays too quickly. He ran 12 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns, but only a couple of those jaunts were designed.
"He was very resilient, he was very methodical," coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Hill. "Twenty-eight points in the first half was an ideal. That was something I was hoping to see."
Hill praised an untested offensive line — Lapuaho, Koroma, Kyle Johnson, Brock Stringham and De’Ondre Wesley were the starters — for allowing him time to survey what was happening downfield. He said he could only remember one time when he was hit while throwing the ball.
Garett Tujague’s big guys "answered the bell," as the offensive line coach is fond of saying.
"So credit the offensive line. I [am] able to now trust them, and one thing we went to last year is we kept the running backs in to protect me," Hill said. "And this season, with the guys that we have up front, we are not doing that anymore. If they do drop eight, I have something to come down to. So that was really good as well."
Nine players caught passes, led by Mitch Mathews with five grabs for 62 yards and a score, so the receiving corps appears to be as deep and talented as advertised. The speedy, suspended Devon Blackmon is set to join the troops next week at Texas along with four others who were held out of the UConn game. Nick Kurtz comes back in three or four weeks from a foot injury.
Defensively, there were some mild surprises in the starting lineup, as Jherremya Leuta-Douyere got the start at inside linebacker and Skye PoVey the start at safety opposite Craig Bills. Both played well, as did the corners filling in for the suspended Daniel Robertson and Jordan Johnson — redshirt freshman Jordan Preator and sophomore converted receiver Michael Davis.
Linebacker Harvey Langi made the trip but didn’t play because his bruised knee is still a bit sore.
"Defensively, managing the points was really good, in terms of only giving up 10," Mendenhall said.
One question left unanswered Friday night was special teams play. It was not good, and reminiscent of last December’s 31-16 bowl loss to Washington. The Cougars were offsides twice on kickoffs, could not kick the ball into the end zone, and missed a 33-yard field goal. One PAT wobbled in.
"Our coverage units I think can be improved, too," Mendenhall said.