When BYU freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum approached the line of scrimmage Saturday at Nebraska to run a play he never had even practiced, he still felt confident.
The trio of wide receivers Mangum had at his disposal when the Cougars prepared for a Hail Mary consisted of two 6-foot-6 targets and one at 6-5. Mitch Mathews, who stands 6-6, came down with the 42-yard pass for the win, aided by his 36-inch vertical leaping ability.
“Those guys are great players, and obviously their height gives them an advantage. ... It made my job easy. On that last play, I knew I had three guys that could go up and make the play,” Mangum said.
On Saturday at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, that is the challenge that awaits Boise State — a deep receiving corps that features the three trees: 6-5 senior Terenn Houk, 6-6 junior Nick Kurtz and Mathews, a senior.
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Against the Huskers, the trio combined for 12 catches and 251 yards. Kurtz had team-highs with five catches for 123 yards, and Mathews had a pair of touchdowns.
“Those guys look like they should be playing in the NBA,” Boise State defensive backs coach Julius Brown said.
Boise State’s starting cornerbacks, who played every down Friday against Washington, are Donte Deayon (5-9) and Jonathan Moxey (5-10). Freshman Tyler Horton (5-11) and junior Ray Ford (5-10) also will see time against the Cougars.
But the height disadvantage is nothing new, and the guys a half-foot shorter have often come out on top.
“The taller they are, the harder they fall,” said Boise State nickel Chanceller James, who is 6-2 and likely will at times have to cover one of those towering targets. “... It’s a challenge, but as defensive backs, you always have smaller guys on bigger players. You can be that big, but if the other player wants it more than you, then they’re going to get it.”
Though the height advantage leads to wins on jump balls that most defensive backs would win, what separates the Cougars’ big receivers is their focus on precise route running.
“That makes it more difficult,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “They’re long-levered and can attack the football. It makes it more difficult for DBs to fight through the football. You’ve got to be in the right position to make plays.”
According to an Associated Press story, only one other FBS team (Iowa State) has two 6-6 receivers, and only eight have multiple receivers 6-5 or taller on the roster. It means Boise State’s defensive backs won’t have much leeway with the Cougars’ receivers having a larger-than-average catch radius.
“They don’t wait for the ball to come to them; they go snatch the ball,” Brown said. “We have to be really good in our technique. We have to be really aggressive on the ball, because if not, they’ll go snatch that thing and pluck it right out of there.”
The Cougars also hope the advantage on the outside helps Mangum and the other receivers, like 5-10 Mitchell Juergens and 6-foot Blackfoot grad Colby Pearson (three catches against Nebraska, 109 yards against Boise State last season).
“Our outside receivers we like tall, and we have a bunch of them,” Mendenhall said during fall camp. “Inside receivers we like a little quicker and faster with matchups on linebackers. We have both of those. So long as we stay healthy, I’m encouraged.’’