Want a snapshot of why BYU quarterback Zach Wilson is drawing praise from teammates and coaches alike? One just has to go back to Saturday’s overtime win over USC when Wilson scrambled to stay alive then found Gunner Romney on a 35-yard pass and then bullied his way into the end zone a play later.
The plays were just two of many that had a big impact on the final outcome, but they also encapsulated Wilson as a quarterback. His throw wasn’t perfect and as he noted afterward, Romney did a tremendous job bringing it down.
But the throw was good enough to make a successful play and Wilson’s decision-making and determination on his touchdown run and throughout the game made up for any accuracy shortcomings.
Together, that series of plays characterize Wilson. The 2018 season was the year when Wilson was introduced to the college game as a replacement for senior Tanner Mangum. Now it seems this is the year when Wilson might make the offense his own.
NO. 22 WASHINGTON AT BYU
When • Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4 or ESPN2
Wilson, whose young looks belie his football savviness, continues to grow into the role as BYU’s quarterback.
“He is learning quick and he has an amazing football IQ,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “He has a great supporting cast and his work ethic is second to none.”
So far this season Wilson is 60-of-95 for 720 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. Both of those turnovers came against Utah, arguably the team with the best defense Wilson will see this year, although Washington could make a case for that distinction when the Huskies play BYU Saturday.
Like Sitake, BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes has been satisfied with Wilson’s ability to lead the team.
“There are a couple times when he could have made a better decision,” Grimes said. “Sometimes that happens to a left guard in pass protection or a running back deciding which gap to take, it is just much more noticeable when it is the quarterback.”
For those worrying Wilson’s ego was growing along with his stats, he at least talks the veteran quarterback talk instead of dwelling on his success, giving credit to his teammates and emphasizing there is more work to be done.
“We are trying to take every win or loss the same way and apply what we learn so we can get better,” he said. “There are still a lot of things I can improve on.”
Wilson’s focus shouldn’t be a surprise to those who know his history. He packed his high school schedule so he could graduate early and join the Cougars in January instead of enjoying a full senior high school year.
He missed out on a lot of fun, he acknowledges, but Wilson was intent on what he wanted as a football player and he seems more mature and self assured now, perhaps because of that choice.
So how will he respond to Saturday’s game against the No. 22 Huskies? Expectations are naturally rising for the Cougars after the USC win, and as the quarterback, Wilson undoubtably will be the figurehead for the hopes of another national attention-getting win.
It’s promising that, thus far, Wilson hasn’t been affected by pressure. Last year he became the youngest freshman quarterback to start for the Cougars at 19 years and two months old. He debuted against Hawaii with a 16-of-24 for 194 yards performance, the highest pass efficiency rating of a BYU true freshman quarterback in their first start.
Wilson capped his year with an 18-for-18 for 370-yard performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, as the Cougars beat Western Michigan 49-18.
If that game served as a triumphant end to a successful rookie debut, then perhaps the way Wilson has played in the last two weeks is a prelude of what is to come as he grows more and more comfortable in the quarterback role.
ZACH WILSON UPDATE
Vitals • 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, sophomore
Hometown • Draper
Of Note • 2019 Maxwell Award watch list nominee…Played in nine games, starting seven as a freshman…Went 120-of-182 passing for 1,578 yards and 12 touchdowns…Also rushed 75 times for 221 yards and two touchdowns…Named MVP of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl after going 18-of-18 for 317 yards…Prepped at Corner Canyon H.S.
Grimes seems to think so, complimenting Wilson’s ability to command the offense.
“One of his strengths is making decisions,” he said. “Some are easy looks where he can make a decision before the ball snaps, some are more complicated when the defense shows blitz late, but that is his strength.”
Wilson’s knack for knowing what to do in the moment transfers to more than just plays. Back in high school, he showed he had a flair for fun when he turned up at the prom with BYU cheerleaders.
Right now, he is all business.
“USC was a big win for us,” he said. “But there are so many things we can get better in.”