He’s so tall you wonder how in the world he could possibly get lost.
Well, on Friday night in Romney Stadium, 6-foot-6 sophomore wide receiver Mitch Mathews of BYU was found. Quarterback Taysom Hill hit Mathews for three touchdown passes in the Cougars' 31-14 win over Utah State. It was kind of a coming out party for both men.
For more than three years members of BYU’s football team, past and present, have sung the praises of Mathews, who showed up, disappeared for two years on an LDS mission to Orlando, Fla., and then returned — only to get injured diving for a pass working out that summer.
In 2012, his freshman year, he nursed that shoulder and it never healed properly. Last December he had surgery, with doctors inserting a steel plate and screws into his shoulder. It is fine now, but he spent last year under wraps.
Folks talked about how athletic he was, how great of a leaper he was, how his hands were big as garbage can lids and that he had suction cups for fingers. They talked of how dangerous he was and how big a target he was for a quarterback to throw to.
In fall camp, for the few portions of practices reporters were allowed to witness, Mathews, the younger brother of another receiver, Marcus, displayed all those features.
Then BYU closed practices and he disappeared from public view. In BYU’s games against Virginia, Texas, Utah and Middle Tennessee State, we saw flashes of Mitch here and there — but nothing that lived up to the hype.
That is until Friday night under the lights in Logan.
BYU’s offense came into that game trying to prevent USU’s defense from loading up the box in answer to the Cougar run game. The theory held that until Hill showed the propensity and accuracy to stretch the field and make other teams fear his arm, they could bring more defenders close to the line of scrimmage for run support.
It is a sound scheme. Against capable run-oriented teams featuring very talented quarterbacks who run but don’t scare defenders with the pass, it makes perfect sense. It is how you gear up for Air Force. You play man coverage with corners, maybe slip in a little zone here and there, but gear everything to stop the QB from running the read option.
With the Aggies bracketing BYU senior Cody Hoffman, it was the perfect time for Hill to attack the Aggies with another entity.
But could Hill do it?
Well, with a little help from his friends, he did. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae drew up some easy throws for Hill to get him started. He moved the pocket, sprinted Hill out, designed some max protection blocking schemes by leaving backs in to help, and created a comfort zone for Hill to operate in.
The results were amazing against a healthy, talented, playmaking USU defense.
Hill found Mathews on a post pattern for his first touchdown, a 30-yard strike in which his big target beat the corner and the safety was too late to help. Hill found Mathews for a second touchdown on a perfectly thrown end zone fade, targeting his left shoulder and with Mathews’ height, the Aggie defender had no chance.
The third Mathews touchdown was a blown coverage by the Aggies, who lost the 6-foot-6 receiver when Hill took several steps to the line of scrimmage as if he was going to run out of the pocket on a well-pressured defensive play. Mathews was wide open and Hill had an easy throw.
Mathews finished the game with five catches for 112 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was all about the game plan,” said Mathews. That and, “trusting Taysom,” he added.
How big is that trust?
During the game Hill could be seen behind the BYU bench talking to Mathews in an animated fashion. It was a discussion of a particular route against the defense.
“I trust that dude,” said Hill of Mathews. “At the end of the day, we had a few mishaps and things like that. But that happens. I know Mitch is going to give me everything he’s got. I trust that dude. We saw why tonight.”
Mathews told reporters he doesn’t mind Hill yelling at him.
“I don’t mind at all. We trust Taysom. He can yell at me and I don’t get embarrassed because I know he wants the best for me.”
And what’s best for both of them: to be able to pass and catch.
Do that, and BYU forces defenses to worry about more than Hill rocketing his way to touchdowns on the turf.
On Friday, USU limited Hill to just 14 rushing yards on nine carries, sacking him for 22 yards of losses.
But in the middle of the game, Hill hit Mathews for TDs of 30, 6 and 43 yards and 21 unanswered points.
Mathews, who was lost, was found.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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