Last Saturday, BYU fans were treated to the difference in game-planning between Bronco Mendenhall, who is a good coach, and Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines, who is a fantastic coach. BYU was outmatched in all facets of the game, and while the Cougars did little to adjust to the smash mouth game plan that Michigan came in with, the Wolverines eventually found a way to exploit BYU's tiring defense and put up huge numbers in a 31-0 victory, marking the first time that BYU had been shut out in 144 games (A 3-0 shutout by Utah in one of the most offensively inept Holy Wars, an ignominy that I was unfortunately personally on hand for). The one silver lining in a game where BYU only achieved eight first downs and let Michigan hold possession of the football for 38 minutes and 38 seconds was that the Cougars managed to protect the football, with zero turnovers. In some ways, that may be more depressing. Before Cougar nation decides to throw in the towel on this season, as I've seen on social media, consider that the Cougars were up against a coach who has a Rose Bowl championship to his name with Stanford, went to three straight NFC Championship Games, and was a few yards from winning Super Bowl XLVII as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers (full disclosure, I'm a rabid fan of the Seattle Seahawks, and can't stand Harbaugh or the Niners, but I give him respect as a worthy adversary). Not much shame in losing to someone who has that kind of pedigree, coaching at his Alma Mater, in one of the most hostile road environments in college football.
One thing that I definitely learned from BYU's offensive impotence, though, is that BYU needs to have some receivers outside of Mitch Matthews and Mitchell Juergens when they go up against a team that can stuff the run with eight defenders in the box (although both Adam Hine and Francis Bernard averaged at least four yards per carry) and play man to man defense on the outside. Since Juergerns and Matthews did not respond well to the physical play of Michigan's corners, and BYU's offensive line was putrid in protecting Tanner Mangum for more than a few seconds, one of the other receivers needs to step up and provide a quick release so that BYU doesn't end up in a similar situation in the future. The Cougar receivers wilted, expecting flags that never came, and consistently got out-muscled on the outside.
Thankfully, BYU faces a Connecticut team that's rolling into Provo as a 17.5 point underdog. Despite returning eight starters on defense and only giving up 295 yards on defense, to BYU's 414, and averaging more than a hundred fewer yards per game passing yielded, consider the competition against which such statistics were compiled. BYU went 2-2 against four top 25 teams, and one top ten team that has a very good chance to make the playoff in UCLA. A date with UConn seems to be just what the doctor ordered. Add to that the fact that this game is in the friendly confines of LaVell Edwards Stadium, and you have a recipe for the BYU receiving corps to have a bounce back game. Of the receivers, I feel that 6'5" Junior Nick Kurtz is poised to break out as another big bodied alternative to Matthews.
Kurtz was a headliner of the BYU 2014 recruiting class, a JC transfer from Grossmont Junior College in El Cajon, California, near San Diego. BYU has had great success with Grossmont wide receivers in the past, former standout Todd Watkins comes to mind. So, expectations were high for Kurtz when he signed with BYU. However, Kurtz only played in one game in 2014 before redshirting. He had a great start to the season, with five receptions for 123 yards against Nebraska in the opener, but has largely disappeared in subsequent games, compiling only six more receptions for 48 yards over BYU's last three games. His pre-BYU resume is certainly impressive, and he has great ball skills, showing a knack for high pointing the ball and making contested catches, on both deep and intermediate routes.
I think we see an opportunity for Kurtz to display his possession receiving skills this week, especially if UConn is able to successfully limit Matthews or Juergens. Kurtz has the size and athleticism to win matchups with physical defensive backs, and should provide an attractive outlet on plays where Mangum may not be able to find his regular targets. Look for Kurtz to have at least a half dozen receptions, most for first downs, and possibly one or two nice deep catches for big chunks of yardage. BYU should handle UConn and Kurtz should be able to prove to Mangum he should be a more frequent target.