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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Tight end Marcus Mathews reaches up for a ball during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011.

PROVO — Sophomore Marcus Mathews' 13-yard touchdown catch with 11 seconds remaining last Friday night not only lifted BYU to a victory over Utah State, it also marked the Cougars' first TD reception by a tight end since the 2009 Las Vegas Bowl.

"It was such a relief to get that off our back," Mathews said Wednesday. "We tried not to listen to what everybody says, but we know the stat out there that it was like 18 straight games without a touchdown. No one had scored since Dennis (Pitta) in the Oregon State game. I was at that game and I remember that play. We've worked hard for it and I think we earned it. We were ready to get that monkey off our back and just keep getting more touchdowns every week. That was a burden. That was something we thought about. But now, we're good. We're ready to roll now."

Though Mathews was one of the heroes last Friday, he still considers himself to be quite anonymous — which is just the way he prefers it.

"I'm so glad I play football so no one knows what my face looks like," he said. "I don't really like that attention. I'm kind of happy about that. Jimmer can have all of the attention."

Speaking of his face, many believe that Mathews is a doppelganger for Indianapolis Colt quarterback Peyton Manning. Mathews has heard about being a Manning look-alike quite often. "Every day I get that," he said.

As a group, BYU's tight ends have improved dramatically since last season. Mathews credits coach Lance Reynolds, who is in his first season overseeing the tight ends.

"Coach Reynolds is a huge reason (for the improvement). He's so wise. We think the world of coach Reynolds," Mathews said. "He knows his stuff and we want to play for him. We all worked our butts off last summer for this. We knew we had to step it up."

Tight end Austin Holt said the group is playing with more confidence.

"Experience is a big thing, but the confidence aspect is the greatest aspect we have this year," he said. "It's completely different than last year. We had no confidence. We made some plays last year, and we were OK, but this year you can see a definite difference."

PUTNAM'S BACK: Senior defensive lineman Matt Putnam, who was declared academically ineligible prior to fall camp, has worked hard to rejoin the team. On Wednesday, he was cleared by the NCAA to play, and could be on the field for some snaps Saturday against San Jose State.

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"It's great news and unsuspected news," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "I wouldn't have thought that that would happen. We're all really excited for him. We'll get him caught up to speed defensively as fast as possible in terms of assignments, possibly where he might even see a play or two this week. He's been a scout player for a week and a half and his conditioning still isn't where it needs to be, but he has good experience and he'll be another number we can use."

INJURY UPDATE: BYU trainer Kevin Morris said linebacker Jordan Pendleton (ankle) and offensive lineman Houston Reynolds (foot) are "probable" for Saturday's game. Defensive lineman Graham Rowley hurt his ankle but should play.

email: jeffc@desnews.com