Before the season even started, No. 12 BYU (5-0) took a big hit when senior tight end Matt Bushman was lost for the year with a season-ending injury. A few weeks later, the Cougars lost star safety Chaz Ah You to a season-ending injury and NFL prospect Tristen Hoge continues to be out with pneumonia after contracting COVID-19 last month.
Heading into Friday’s showdown against Houston (1-1) and going up against their toughest test so far this season, the news didn’t get any better when it was announced that star defensive linemen Khyiris Tonga didn’t travel with the team due to a non-COVID-related illness. With defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea suffering a season-ending injury earlier in the week, the Cougars faced an uphill battle before the game even started.
While the team still managed to jump out to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, adversity ensued and continued to snowball well into the third quarter as everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the Cougars as Houston scored 23 unanswered points to go up 26-14.
Senior defenders Zayne Anderson and Kavika Fonua left the game with injuries at various times and cornerback Micah Harper was disqualified on a horrible targeting call. Even more furious for Cougar fans is that Houston running back Kyle Porter, who head-butted Harper, was able to remain in the game. The bad call turned what would have been a 3rd and 31 situation for Houston, into an automatic first down.
Not only did Houston get away with a bunch of holding calls, as well as late hits and other cheap shots, one Houston player even spit in the face of BYU’s Keenan Ellis towards the end of the game.
Late hit, a personal foul and targeting all in one? https://t.co/viD6WiMnu5
— Dick Harmon (@Harmonwrites) October 17, 2020
On the offensive side of the ball, star receiver Gunner Romney left the game with a hamstring injury and did not return. The junior wideout ranked near the top in the country with 20 catches for 453 yards and two touchdowns in four games. Center James Empey made his return to the starting lineup, however, he didn’t last long after a Houston player rolled over his ankle. The Cougars were also stopped on the 2-yard line on 4th and 1 and Tyler Allgeier’s incredible 45-yard touchdown catch was erased by a phantom block-in-the-back penalty on Clark Barrington.
While most teams would have folded under such adversity, there was no panic in players and coaches. Instead, it was just another challenge as the Cougars look to complete their first undefeated season since 1984.
“I am just proud of our players and the way they were able to respond to adversity,” BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said after the game.
The old football adage of, “Any given team can win on any given day” certainly rings true. While upsets are aplenty in college football, great teams find a way to win, no matter the circumstances.
In past years, Cougar fans have had to get used to mediocre seasons and frustrating losses to inferior teams (Toledo, UMass, USF, Northern Illinois, East Carolina, Fresno State). This year, the team, which faced its first double-digit deficit, came roaring back to score 29 unanswered points on the road.
And if there was ever a Heisman moment for Zach Wilson, that was it.
Wilson has helped lead BYU to the nation’s No. 6 offense (541.0 ypg), and also leads the country in completion percentage (78.7). He’s thrown 12 touchdowns to just one interception, and has rushed for six touchdowns on the ground. He currently has 5,601 passing yards in his career and although that would put him near the all-time mark at most schools around the country, Wilson knows he’s still far down the list (14th overall) of great BYU quarterbacks.
BYU has always been known as “QB University” as the program consistently produced first-round NFL draft picks and Heisman Trophy contenders in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Under LaVell Edwards, BYU changed college football into what has now become today’s pass-happy game. With Zach Wilson now slinging it all over the field, the Cougars are on pace to set numerous records, are in the national spotlight and are bringing back the glory days. In fact, USA TODAY, which did a national survey among Heisman voters, have Zach Wilson as the No. 3 guy, behind Alabama’s Mac Jones and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence.
This year’s BYU team is different, and is showing similarities of great Cougar teams over the years who refused to lose. With each passing win and climb in the rankings, the Cougars are bringing national respect back to a program that helped shape college football and is giving fans a taste of the glory days.