John Harris on the 2017 BYU Spring Game
The BYU Cougars are coming off of a 9-4 record and a five game winning streak to close 2016. In fact, the only loss in a nine game closing stretch was a one point loss to Boise State on the blue turf up in Idaho. As the Cougars enter 2017, though, there are plenty of graduation losses that the team must deal with, including star running back Jamaal Williams. Along with gutty quarterback Taysom Hill, the senior duo accounted for 1,974 yards on the ground and 20 of the team’s 28 touchdowns in 2016.
Finding offensive weapons at the Williams-Hill level is going to be difficult. At the Spring game on Saturday, though, a few young players emerged, including true freshman tight end Matt Bushman. The Eagle Scout has served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Chile and is now back to play both football and baseball. He’s a true freshman in name only, but he flourished as a pass catching tight end on Saturday. He caught a 69-yard touchdown and ran past every single defender on his way to the end zone. When I saw it, I immediately wrote down “No. 89 will be a pro one day”. Then I realized that he was only a freshman. Whoa. He finished the day with three touchdowns and impressed a ton of rain jacket clad BYU fans.
Coach Kalani Sitake was quite pleased with his tight ends stating that he believed Bushman was a special player and that Moroni Laulu-Pututau had a good spring.
Quarterback Tanner Mangum has big shoes to fill following Hill, who finally ran out of eligibility. He’s seen plenty of time on the field over the past two years but Saturday wasn’t one of his greatest days. 20 of his 25 passes did not hit the ground; unfortunately, three of them were picked off by the BYU defense.
Another young player that ended up with two of those interceptions was Isaiah Kaufusi. There have been plenty of Kaufusis that have played college football in the state of Utah, including Isaiah’s cousin Bronson who was a third round pick by the Ravens. In those years away on his mission, Kaufusi packed on some weight, but his athleticism is clearly evident at a linebacker position. Can he break into the starting lineup as a freshman?
The Cougars will go as far as the right arm of Mangum takes them, but they’ll need to find that replacement for Jamaal Williams to take the offense to a different level before they head to Houston for their matchup with LSU.