Boise • Remember when BYU football coach Kalani Sitake said Thursday that he expected quarterback Zach Wilson to play “perfectly” in Friday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan?
Well, the third-year coach must have known something.
Wilson did just that, completing all 18 passes he attempted for 317 yards and four touchdowns as the Cougars scored 35 unanswered points after falling behind by three at halftime. BYU went on to roast the Broncos 49-18 on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 18,711 mostly blue-clad fans.
“It was good to see Zach just throw it and let loose,” said Sitake, who is now 20-19 at BYU, including 2-0 in bowl games. “I mentioned that he’s a gun slinger, and that’s kind of what we need to let him be.”
Wilson’s passer rating was 321.3 as he claimed bowl MVP honors and set numerous Potato Bowl and BYU records. The 18-year-old true freshman, making his seventh college start, said he didn’t know he had not thrown an incompletion until midway through the fourth quarter when he was taken out of the game in favor of senior Tanner Mangum, a Boise-area resident. He said he thought he had thrown “six or seven” incompletions.
“Of course, that’s the intention of every game plan,” Wilson said, noting that he had not heard about Sitake’s lofty expectations from Thursday’s news conference. “You want to come out and try to be perfect.”
Wilson credited his receivers — eight caught passes — for making some “incredible” catches to keep the streak going. Specifically, Aleva Hifo made a one-handed grab that he turned into a 70-yard touchdown reception, tight end Matt Bushman wrestled a ball away from a WMU defender, and Dylan Collie followed Bushman’s takeaway catch with a diving grab for 30 yards on the 17th pass Wilson threw. His 18th and final pass went to fellow freshman Dax Milne for a 5-yard touchdown.
“He set the bar for himself, but I will go ahead and set it even higher,” said Collie, who caught six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns in his best, and final, game as a Cougar. “I truly believe this kid will be one of, if not the greatest, quarterbacks in BYU history.
• Bowl MVP Zach Wilson, a freshman, plays perfectly, completing 18 of 18 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns
• BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki makes 19 tackles, one shy of a Potato Bowl record, in his final game as a Cougar
• Wilson sets a BYU record with 18 consecutive completions in a single game and finishes one completion short of the bowl history record of 19 set by Georgia’s Mike Bobo in 1998
• Senior receiver Dylan Collie caught six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns in his final game as a Cougar
Wilson’s 18 straight completions is a BYU record in a single game and the second-most consecutive completions in bowl history, behind only Georgia’s Mike Bobo, who had 19 against Wisconsin in the 1998 Outback Bowl. Wilson tied the all-time record for best completion percentage (1.000) in any bowl. Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner was 11 for 11 against Navy in the 2008 EagleBank Bowl.
“As a quarterback, you realize that your success comes based on the team around you,” Wilson said. “My linemen are out there sacrificing their bodies for me, and my receivers are going out there and making plays so that I know 50-50 balls are going to be caught. … Just giving these guys a chance, that’s kind of the reason why I had success today.”
Mangum, who gave way to Wilson as the starter after six games, including wins over Wisconsin and Arizona, entered the game to a big round of applause with 7:37 remaining and connected with Collie for 41 yards on the only pass he threw. Sitake said he apologized to WMU coach Tim Lester afterwards for throwing when it wasn’t necessary.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick “are just like, hey, let’s just let the kid throw,’” Sitake said. “That was kind of the theme of the night. We let them throw.”
Western Michigan gained 192 of its 313 total yards in the first half and took a 10-7 lead at the break, but Lester said he was uneasy with the lead because his freshman quarterback, Kaleb Eleby, was not seeing the field well.
Like Sitake on Thursday, he was prophetic. Lester said the 48-yard pass from Wilson to Neil Pau’u that opened the second half for BYU was pivotal, because Wilson was hit on the play but still delivered a strike.
“Once they got a lead on us, they went after our secondary pretty good,” Lester said.
Wilson followed the second TD toss to Collie — which gave BYU a 14-10 lead — with TD passes to Aleva Hifo and Milne in the second half. Riley Burt, filling in for injured RBs ahead of him on the depth chart — Squally Canada, Lopini Katoa and Matt Hadley — scampered 37 yards for a score. Safety Dayan Ghanwoloku added a short TD run.
Sitake said he didn’t have to give a fiery speech at halftime after the Cougars fell behind 10-7 and had been out-gained by nearly 100 yards.
“These guys did it all,” he said. “The players did it. The leaders on our team took over and I really didn’t need to say a thing.”
The Cougars finished the season with a 7-6 record and are now 15-20-1 in bowl games, having won their last two.