Michelle Tessier, Deseret News
PROVO — They stayed home and missed the season-opening win at Connecticut.
Now, five suspended BYU players are expected to make the trip to Texas when the Cougars meet the Longhorns Saturday (5:30 p.m. MDT, Fox Sports 1).
Running back Jamaal Williams, cornerbacks Jordan Johnson and Robertson Daniel, wide receiver Devon Blackmon, and nose tackle Marques Johnson paid the price for breaking team rules.
Due to the suspension, Williams has one fewer opportunity to shatter the school’s all-time rushing record. He needs 1,448 rushing yards to surpass Harvey Unga’s mark for career rushing yards — 3,455.
But Williams, who ran for 182 yards against the Longhorns in a 40-21 victory last season, is just happy to get back on the field after watching his teammates play on television last Friday.
“It’s in the past. It was a little weird,” Williams said. “It’s a new week. I finally get to play. I’m ready to go and help my team win.”
Jordan Johnson's chance for a once-in-a-lifetime homecoming game at Rentschler Field — located just 30 minutes from his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts — was squandered. Blackmon, meanwhile, saw his BYU debut deferred.
How have the five players responded to their suspensions?
“Really well,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “They were unselfish, they were accountable, they knew what they did, and they’ve been working really hard.”
“It was hard for them last week not being there,” said defensive lineman and team captain Remington Peck. “We heard from all of them and they’ve been working hard, trying to get back to step in and have a role. For the most part, it seems like their work’s paid off. I think they’ll step in and have a definite role this week.”
Mendenhall expressed excitement about the prospect of the five players returning to action. At the same time, though, Mendenhall, who has said repeatedly that he won’t discuss publicly personnel issues he’s dealing with in the program, explained that the suspended players aren’t out of the woods yet.
“That is day by day and it will be the entire season, in terms of behavior and what they need to do to live up to contracts they have with me,” Mendenhall said.
Peck praised the suspended players for the way they handled a difficult situation.
“I gained respect for all of those guys for standing up and admitting what they did,” Peck said. “That’s probably the hardest part, then paying their dues and now they can get back out and help us because we need those guys.”
In Williams’ absence, the Cougars rushed for 205 yards against UConn, including 97 yards from quarterback Taysom Hill and 49 yards from running back Paul Lasike.
With Johnson and Daniel out, sophomore Michael Davis and freshman Jordan Preator performed well at the cornerback spots. On this week’s depth chart, Davis is listed as the starter at field corner, with Johnson as his backup. Daniel is listed as the starter at boundary corner, with Preator backing him up.
Mendenhall loves the depth he has at that position. “Assuming everything happens well,” he said, “we have two more corners to a strong secondary performance.”
Marques Johnson is listed as Travis Tuiloma’s backup at nose tackle. Peck said not having Johnson last Friday caused the defensive linemen to play "way too many plays" and that they are looking forward to welcoming Johnson into the mix.
The speedy Blackmon, a junior college transfer, provides even more depth to the BYU receiving corps. Wide receiver Jordan Leslie said coaches put Blackmon on the scout team last week to help the Cougar defense get ready for the Huskies.
“He handled it great,” Leslie said of Blackmon, who, along with Kurt Henderson, is listed as Leslie's backup. “He was giving (the defense) a great look. I talked to him after every practice and I told him, ‘I’m proud of you.’ He went out there and improved his craft. A lot of people go over there and they (think), ‘I’m not playing this week, so let me just slack.’ But he busted his butt and gave them a great look that prepared them for UConn.”
What does that attitude say about Blackmon?
“It just shows that he’s a grown man. He has respect for this team,” Leslie said. “He’s not bigger than the team. He understands that. When you get in trouble, there’s a consequence. He paid the consequence and did everything he needed to do. He gets a lot of respect from me, the team leaders, the captains, everything.”
Leslie said he noticed Blackmon watching film of last year’s BYU-Texas game, studying the opposition's techniques. “He’s excited,” Leslie said. “That’s great to see.”
During Friday’s season opener, Williams, sitting a couple of thousand miles away from his teammates, sent a photo via Twitter of himself holding a baby boy, who was asleep.
“Happy watching my team do work and I'm being a good big brother at the same time,” Williams tweeted.
Asked Monday about the photo with the baby, Williams said, “During the game, I’ll yell, he’ll yell, then he went to sleep on me. So I lost my buddy during the game. It’s fun to have family out here to support you even when you’re not playing and let you know that they’re here for you no matter what you do.”
BYU (1-0) at Texas (1-0)
Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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