Dick Harmon: BYU victory comes with 4 rookies getting first career starts
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — BYU used a rookie night of sorts to defeat the UConn Huskies Friday night 35-10.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall entered Friday’s season opener at UConn without announcing he’d suspended five potential starters. What he did do is give four rookies their first career starts.
Cougar star junior running back Jamaal Williams, transfer receiver Devon Blackman, corners Jordan Johnson and Robertson Daniel and defensive nose guard DeMarcus Johnson were all missing in action Friday night at Rentschler Field — they didn’t even make the trip.
Mendenhall countered by starting freshman Jordan Preator at boundary corner out of necessity. Other freshmen making their Cougar career debuts were center Tejan Koroma, left tackle Ului Lapuaho and combo punt returner/receiver Mitchell Juergens, a sophomore who'd never played for the Cougars.
"I was especially impressed with Jordan Preator,” said Mendenhall. With experienced corners, probably starters left in Provo, that may have been an understatement.
Taysom Hill, who was not sacked in the game, praised the two freshmen blockers.
“The freshmen offensive linemen played great. I have to look at the film, but for a first game, they did a great job,” Hill said.
“I’ll have to look at film, but overall I thought the freshmen did a nice job. I thought Koroma did a great job out there for what we put on him,” said offensive line coach Garrett Tujague.
They all had their moments in a penalty-plagued BYU win over UConn from the American Athletic Conference, helping BYU to a 19-2 record over teams from that league.
Statistically, Juergens struck the most noticeable numbers with two receptions for 19 yards and two punt returns for 24 yards. He caught a short sideline pass from Taysom Hill in the first quarter and raced 43 yards down the sideline, but the play was called back on a penalty.
But 6-foot-7, 333-pound Lapuaho and 6-foot-0, 280-pound Koroma got in plenty of tough trench work and valuable experience protecting Hill and opening up holes for the rush game in their rookie starts.
Praetor had a solid outing defending UConn’s NFL draft candidate Geremy Davis and speedy senior outside receiver Deshon Foxx. He had three tackles and two breakups.
"Jordan Preater was my sleeper pick back in February. I reminded my staff of that because he knocked down three or four passes," said Mendenhall. "I was really happy for him."
Mendenhall replaced Williams with Adam Hine, and Michael Davis took a spot that would have been manned by Daniels or Johnson.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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