Amherst, Mass. • The BYU Cougars have been having a lot of fun of late, what with four straight wins, a bowl invitation and their coach snagging a new contract.
They weren’t about to let the UMass Minutemen spoil the party on Saturday.
The Cougars walloped their fellow football independents 56-24 at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium in game that wasn’t that close.
“We knew it was their senior night, so we knew they were going to come out with a chip on their shoulder,” said BYU defensive lineman JJ Nwigwe, who snatched his first career interception. “We practiced and prepared that way. As soon as kickoff started, we already knew that we had to bring it.”
Injuries continue to dog BYU, especially at the running back position, but it didn't matter. The Cougars rolled to a 49-0 halftime lead — after scoring 42 unanswered points in the second quarter alone — and did not look back.
BYU improved to 7-4 for the season with its fifth straight win. UMass finished the season 1-11.
The Cougars and Minutemen played in front of 8,204 fans on a crisp autumn day here. It was the smallest crowd BYU has played before in 50 years.
Cougar quarterback Zach Wilson was sharp in his second start back after an early-season thumb injury, completing 17 of 20 passes for 293 yards and four TDs. He gave way to backup Joe Critchlow in the second half. Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall continue to be shelved by injuries.
BYU 56, UMASS 24
• The Cougars improve to 7-4 and win their fifth straight game by rolling over the woeful (1-11) Minutemen.
• BYU freshman running back Jackson McChesney ran for 228 yards on just 15 carries, the best by a freshman in school history.
• Cougar QB Zach Wilson is sensational in his second game back from a thumb injury, throwing for 293 yards and 4 TDs while completing 85 percent of his passes.
And freshman running back Jackson McChesney continues to be a revelation at running back. Just the day after the Cougars announced that Sione Finau was out the rest of the season with a torn ACL, McChesney romped for 228 yards and two scores on just 15 carries.
McChesney said it was tough to see a teammate, especially one he works with on a daily basis, go down to an injury. But the loss of Finau only added motivation.
The performance was the best from a freshman running back and sixth-best in BYU program history. McChesney could even break the record next season as a redshirt freshman.
“I’m just trying to do what I can,” McChesney said. “Do my one-eleven — that’s what coach is always talking about. Everyone do their job. If everyone does their job, we’re going to do great things.”
Sitake said he knew McChesney was going to be a playmaker for the Cougars. The plan all along was to try to redshirt him and keep him to the four-game limit so as to help him adjust to coming back from his church mission.
And he's still not at 100% yet, Sitake said.
“The guy — he’s a speedster,” Sitake said. “So, whenever he breaks open to the next level, it’s usually a big play for him.”
Lopini Katoa, another injured BYU running back, was a game-time decision. He did get into the game, carrying seven times for 34 yards and a TD.
Sitake said they used Katoa as sparingly as they could to be healthy.
BYU rolled up a season-best 628 yards of total offense. Sitake, who signed a contract extension early in the week, was thrilled.
“The great thing I saw was the O-line being upfront — moving the piles and moving people,” he said. “And when they do that, it should be in our favor. Anybody can run the ball in that lineage.”
Defensively, the Cougars allowed the Minutemen to gain less than 300 yards for the day, though the second-stringers gave up 24 points to UMass in the second half.
Sitake wasn’t happy with that second half performance, but he saw it as a learning opportunity for the younger guys and a way to improve their depth.
Wide receiver Talon Shumway, who caught four passes for 92 yards and one touchdown, was kind of mad about the decision, but understood it was what was best for the team.
As a senior, Shumway is counting down the minutes he has left to play for BYU. So, it irked him that, for a second consecutive week, he was pulled after the first half.
“[The coaches] have to do what they have to,” Shumway said. “The younger guys deserve an opportunity, but I’m never happy to be pulled out.”
That likely won’t be an issue next week. The Cougars renew their old WAC and Mountain West rivalry with San Diego State in San Diego.