Cougars ‘twin tower’ receivers key to BYU football success

Rick Bowmer
BYU wide receiver Mitch Mathews, rear, catching a pass over the back of UNLV defensive back Mike Horsey in Provo, Utah. BYU’s 6-foot-6-inch receivers Mitch Mathews and Nick Kurtz nicknamed the Twin Towers. (Associated Press)

The BYU offense has visions of mismatches across the field for quarterback Tanner Mangum to exploit this season. That begins with a pair of 6-foot-6-inch receivers nicknamed the Twin Towers.

Mitch Mathews and Nick Kurtz make BYU one of two FBS teams with at least two receivers listed at around 6-feet-6-inches or taller, according to STATS. Iowa State is the other with D’vario Montgomery and Hakeem Butler. Only eight programs have multiple 6-foot-5-inch receivers listed on the 2015 roster.

To say the duo came up huge for the Cougars last Saturday against Nebraska would be an understatement — Kurtz led the game in receiving yards while Mathews brought in Mangum’s desperate 42-yard Hail Mary pass to beat the Huskers. It’s expected that BYU’s offense will continue to exploit opposing defenses by creating mismatches deep down the field.

“That’ll be a lot of fun to be able to pick on (defensive backs) with our ability, and our height leads to a lot of mismatches,” Mathews said. “It’ll be a fun little story to have two tall guys, two basketball-looking football players out there playing the game.”

Mathews caught 73 passes for 922 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns in 2014. Kurtz received a four-star ranking from coming out of Grossmont College. The recruiting site ranked him the No. 4 junior college receiver in the nation, but he redshirted last season with a foot injury.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said he sees an array of possibilities with them standing tall on opposite sides of the field.

“Our philosophy, we like tall receivers and we like rangy receivers because most corners are shorter,” Mendenhall said. “That gives us an advantage matchup-wise. So, our outside receivers we like tall, and we have a bunch of them. 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.”

Mathews and Kurtz present natural mismatches with their height alone, but receiver coach Guy Holiday constantly preaches for them to maximize their size. There are lessons on how best to snatch the ball at its highest point and shield defenders using their bodies. He emphasizes “don’t be 6-6 and play 6-foot.” All that size also increases the entire catch radius, so the advantage isn’t just about jump balls.

“Sometimes I feel like I forget that I’m tall,” Kurtz said. “With a big guy you can be covered, but at the same time quarterback puts it in the right spot and you’re still open.”

The two can also run, so they’re not only a red zone threat, but have the ability to run past defenders and take the lid off the defense. Kurtz showed that skill during fall scrimmages. Mathews was limited most of camp due to hernia surgery.

There was already an emphasis placed on the efficiency of the pass game. But that ramped up after running back Jamaal Williams left the school for personal reasons. He was on pace to set the school’s career rushing yards record. BYU has said all the right things about a running back-by-committee approach, but the fact is there isn’t another back on the roster as talented as Williams.

Williams and Kurtz will be joined on the outside by senior Devon Blackmon. The coaching staff has worked on packages with Williams or Kurtz moving inside with Blackmon outside. Terenn Houk, Moroni Laulu-Pututau, Kurt Henderson and the shifty Mitchell Juergens are also expected to contribute.

“You don’t ever want to be a team of one of everything,” Holliday said. “You don’t want to be a team of midgets and you don’t want to be a team of giants. At receiver, you want to be a complete team. Smaller guys have a little more quickness, operate a little bit better in space. Taller guy plays outside well.

“We want to be multi-dimensional. That’s what those different players gives us.”

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