Provo • Freshman quarterback Zach Wilson rightfully received the bulk of the attention and praise after leading BYU to a 49-23 win over Hawaii late Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
But he got a lot of help, including some much-needed support from the senior he replaced in the starting lineup, Tanner Mangum, who also happens to be his roommate.
“Luckily, I had a lot of help from my teammates. Everyone knows a quarterback can’t be successful without a good line or good receivers, or shoot, even a good scheme,” Wilson, 19, said after becoming the youngest quarterback to start a game for BYU. “Everything was in place tonight.”
Wilson connected on 16 of 24 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns, with just one interception. As he came off the field after each possession or touchdown drive, Mangum was usually the first teammate to meet him and congratulate him.
“We have nothing but love for each other,” Wilson said. “We help each other out with anything we can. It is always tough to be in that situation. … We kind of separate life from football. We realize there is no reason to be mad or hate or whatever. … We have a good friendship and we help each other out.”
Wilson’s biggest contribution wasn’t as tangible as his quarterback rating of 167.5, the highest ever for a BYU true freshman making his first start. Mangum posted a 162.7 in his first start, against Boise State in 2015.
Somehow, the Cougars played better with Wilson at the helm, for reasons they weren’t quite able to put a finger on.
“I just think the whole offense played a lot better,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “We were more sound up front, and we knocked them back on the line of scrimmage on both sides. We weren’t playing physical enough as a team, and that was the goal, to be a more physical team. … There are a lot of reasons why we performed better, and the main one was we tried to get back to what our identity was. We had an identity and we got away from it. We needed to stay with what we are, and that’s a physical football team.”
Indeed, the Cougars ran the ball 47 times for 280 yards, with Matt Hadley gaining 91, Lopini Katoa picking up 83 and Riley Burt 59 in the place of starter Squally Canada, who was out with a concussion.
• Hawaii was not as good as advertised. The Rainbow Warriors came in with a glossy 6-1 record, but that came against one of the worst schedules in the country. Hawaii was especially lacking at the line of scrimmage, and BYU was able to dominate on both sides of the ball after getting pushed around the previous weeks against Washington and Utah State.
• Coaches picked a perfect time to give Wilson his first start. Sitake said the freshman earned the starting spot with his play in practices and his preparation, and made sure to point out that Mangum didn’t lose it. Whatever the case, Wilson flourished against a soft defense. He will be a real hero if he can move the ball against the likes of Boise State and Utah down the road.
“We felt like the competition [in practice] showed, especially in the last couple of weeks, that Zach was doing good enough for us to give him the starting spot because he deserved it,” Sitake said.
Asked who is Wilson’s backup now, Sitake said, “It is still a competition. Jaren Hall is right there, too. We will see when the depth chart comes out.”
• BYU’s offense will only get better, if key players stay healthy. The Cougars started six freshmen on the offensive side of the ball, and during one series eight of the 11 offensive players were freshmen. Their play was punctuated when Wilson threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to fellow freshman Gunner Romney.
Player of the game
• BYU defensive end Corbin Kaufusi. Wilson got most of the post-game accolades, but Kaufusi played three or four different positions, including middle linebacker during one stretch, and played all of them well. Kaufusi led the team with eight tackles, including two sacks.
Play of the game
• BYU safety Dayan Ghanwoloku’s fumble recovery. Having returned to the lineup for the first time since the Wisconsin game, the junior pounced on a fumbled punt after BYU’s second-straight three-and-out in the second half. Hawaii had trimmed the big BYU lead to 28-10 and had all the momentum until Ghanwoloku’s third recovery of the season.
The Cougars and their Oct. 27 opponent, Northern Illinois, have byes this week. The Huskies improved to 4-3 on Saturday with a 24-21 win over Ohio. Northern Illinois has a stout defense but has struggled as much as BYU to put points on the board.