The strong arm of Zach Wilson leads Cougars to fourth dominating win

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars running back Tyler Allgeier (25) pushes past Texas State during an NCAA college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Provo, Utah.

After a pair of games that tested the Cougars, BYU brought another dominating performance on Saturday over Texas State, beating the Bobcats 52-14.

But if BYU had hoped to crack into the top 10 of the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, it will have to wait one more week. The latest win nudged the Cougars up from No. 12 to No. 11 in the latest rankings, released Sunday.

Even if the win came easily, the Cougars still gave their best possible performance. That was made fairly evident early on when, tied at 7-7 in the first quarter, BYU decided to go for it on 4th-and-3.

And, instead of getting just a first down, Zach Wilson found Keanu Hill for a 33 yard touchdown reception.

By the end of the night, the Cougars converted 9 of 15 third downs and both fourth down attempts.

“We came in knowing that we were going to go for it more on fourth downs and be aggressive,” offensive lineman Brady Christensen said. “They have their analytics to look at to see what we should do. We’re never surprised when the call comes in. We always know that we’ve got to buckle up on fourth down and short. We’ve got to make a play to back our coaches up for being aggressive.”

Defensively, the Cougars also had strong performances.

After allowing the Bobcats' opening drive touchdown, Texas State was unable to score on its next nine consecutive drives. The Bobcats punted six times, were picked once, gave up possession on a turnover on downs and ran out of time on one at the end of the first half.

The BYU defense ended the night with two interceptions off Texas State quarterback Brady McBride.

“We made some adjustments, but I think the main emphasis was just to settle down,” said linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, who recorded his first career Pick 6. “They came out that first drive and were doing some crazy things and caught us off guard. We made a good adjustment, but I think once we settled in and played our game that was the biggest reason why we were able to have that success.”

With such dominating performances on both sides of the ball, BYU was able to run away with the game early on.

Three takeaways

• The Cougars were without one of their top receivers in Gunner Romney, who’s out with a hamstring injury. So, BYU spread the ball to 14 receivers — a school record. The Cougars put up 352 yards through the air.

Wilson even got in on the action with a 16-yard catch from receiver Neil Pau’u. Of the 14 receivers to see action Saturday, five caught multiple passes.

“I thought, looking at Zach Wilson and Baylor Romney and the way they spread the ball out, we were able to get some guys involved in the game,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “Obviously, we got some good looks at some younger guys. We just kept our offense rolling a little bit. I’m just happy that a lot of them got some of their first live reps with the ball in their hands.”

• BYU had two giveaways on Saturday for a total of five through six games. However, the BYU defense has prevented any of its opponents from scoring on the ensuing possession.

The first Cougar turnover against Texas State came on a bad snap that Wilson was unable to recover. The defense didn’t allow the Bobcats to get a first down on their next drive. In fact, Texas State opted to go for it on a 4th-and-6, but a pass breakup by Keenan Ellis forced a turnover on downs.

The next giveaway was when the Bobcats picked backup quarterback Baylor Romney. But once again, Texas State was unable to even get a first down.

• For the fifth time this season, BYU scored more than 40 points in a game. It is the first time in school history the Cougars have scored more than 40 points in five of its first six games of a season. Saturday’s 52 points was also the second time this season BYU topped 50 points — a feat the Cougars have managed five times under Sitake.

Player of the game

Zach Wilson, junior, quarterback.

It’s almost repetitive, but Wilson just continues to put on stellar performances this season. This time around, the junior completed 76% of his passes for 287 yards and four touchdowns. It was the fourth time in six games this year he threw for 200-plus yards in the first half. It was also the first time in Wilson’s career he threw four touchdown passes in back-to-back games.

Saturday’s performance also pushed Wilson into the 5,000/500 club (5,000+ career passing yards and 500+ career rushing yards — a club only four BYU quarterbacks find themselves in.) Wilson stands at 5,888 passing yards and 503 rushing yards.

“Zach is killing it this whole season,” tight end Isaac Rex said.

Play of the game

Hurried, Wilson found himself scrambling toward the right side of the field when he shot a laser at Dax Milne, who was nearing the end zone on the opposite side of the field. The pass landed perfectly in Milne’s hands for the Cougars' fifth touchdown of the night.

Sitake said that type of performance is nothing new from Wilson; he’s seen his star player do that over and over again in practice.

“I’m just glad he was able to make that throw,” Sitake said. “I’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks try to make that throw and end up throwing it short. It was a nice pinpoint throw. I was happy with a lot of things we did offensively with Zach and some of the decision making he made.”

Up next

The Cougars will face a unique competitor — Western Kentucky. While the Hilltoppers aren’t considered a rival on the gridiron, or even on the basketball court, they found themselves in a face-off with BYU over who had the nation’s top mascot.

After it was determined that Western Kentucky had committed fraud, BYU’s Cosmo was named the champion in April when sports were at a complete standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Should Big Red want a rematch, he’ll have the chance Saturday when BYU hosts Western Kentucky at LaVell Edwards Stadium.