Honolulu • A year ago, Zach Wilson had the game of the season. His perfect performance at the Idaho Famous Potato Bowl was the cherry on top of the breakout season for the true freshman.
This year, Wilson’s follow-up performance hit a bump in the road when the sophomore fractured his right (throwing) thumb at Toledo in September. However, the Draper native was able to make his comeback earlier than expected and will lead the Cougars Tuesday in the Hawaii Bowl.
Against Western Michigan at the 2018 bowl game, Wilson went 18 of 18 for 317 yards and four touchdowns — and wasn’t picked once. After coming back from his injury this year, Wilson had his best game against a struggling UMass squad.
The quarterback led BYU to a dominating 49-0 halftime score on 85% passing for 293 yards and four touchdowns; Wilson (and the majority of starters and second-stringers) didn’t even play the second half.
But can fans expect to see a follow-up bowl performance from the sophomore quarterback in Honolulu this time around?
If anything, with three solid quarterbacks in the group, it could help set up Wilson to continue leading the offense in the 2020 season.
“Zach played a really good game last year, but it’s a new season,” senior wide receiver Micah Simon said. “We’re all just looking to play our best in this game. We’re not looking to top anything that we did last year — we just all want to come out here and play our best for each other. Especially on this last game of the season, and come out on top that way.”
While BYU coach Kalani Sitake doesn’t like to measure success by wins or losses, he would like to see his team perform at its best come Christmas Eve — including Wilson.
The team has earned the opportunity to be in this bowl game.
“We can only control what we do as a program and when we take the field as a team,” Sitake said. “I know Hawaii will be ready and we’ll be ready as well. Whatever happens, happens."
It’s no question the Cougars had an up-and-down season. If anything, it was showcased in San Diego when BYU, the winner of the last five straight, struggled to score against the Aztecs and closed out its regular season with a 13-3 loss.
Wilson went 31 of 51 for 316 yards — against one of the toughest defenses in the country — but failed to get the Cougars into the end zone.
For senior defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku, just earning a bid for a bowl game marks a successful season. However, winning a bowl game also helps close out the season on a positive note.
And set up the following season.
So, even though the Cougars are enjoying the beach views and island life, Ghanwoloku said the team is ready to get down to business.
“It’s not just a vacation or to mess around — it’s a real game,” Ghanwoloku said. “We’re treating it like every other game. We’re coming out with our play calls and everything. Everyone’s minds are right.”
Ghanwoloku not only wants to close out his collegiate career alongside his fellow seniors, but use the opportunity to impart some wisdom on the underclassmen.
At the start of the season, Simon made a mental note to enjoy the games more. The wide receiver realized he got lost in the motions over the last few years, but wanted to be more aware of his surroundings and the opportunity he’s had to play at the collegiate level.
On Christmas Eve, at Aloha Stadium, he'll do the same.
“I think it’ll be the same type of approach I take tomorrow, just soaking in the stadium, feel the energy,” Simon said. “Especially just being my last college game, taking it play by play and and just looking around at these players and brothers of mine, and coaches, and just seeing how we all finish the year out and connect with each other one last time. It’ll be fun.”
BYU vs. HAWAII
At Aloha Stadium, Honolulu
Kickoff » Tuesday, 6 p.m. MST
TV » ESPN
Radio » BYU Radio Sirius XM 143/89.1 FM HD2; BYU Sports Network; KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Records » BYU 7-5; Hawaii 9-5 (5-3 MW)
All-time series » BYU leads 22-8
Last meeting » BYU 49, Hawaii 23 (Oct. 13, 2018)
About BYU » The Cougars have won five straight in the series and 11 of the last 12 against Hawaii. … While coach Kalani Sitake was raised in Laie, Hawaii, the Cougars also have more than 35 players of Polynesian decent. … BYU defeated the Rainbow Warriors in 2018 in Zach Wilson’s first start at quarterback; he threw for 194 yards and three TDs, while rushing for another. … The Cougars’ top four receivers are all upperclassmen, with three seniors (Micah Simon, Talon Shumway and Aleva Hifo) and junior Matt Bushman.
About Hawaii » The Rainbow Warriors are making their ninth So’Fi Hawaii Bowl appearance, second straight and third in the last four years. … A win by UH would give the Rainbow Warriors 10 wins for just the seventh time in program history and first since 2010 (10-4). … UH will be playing its 15th game of the season, the most in a single season in program history. … The Rainbow Warriors are led by junior quarterback Cole McDonald, who has thrown for 3,642 yards and 29 touchdowns this season.