As the youngest person to ever start at quarterback in BYU history, Zach Wilson had a lot of people — including Ute fans — closely watching his every move.
The freshman quarterback made sure not to disappoint as he threw for 194 yards and three touchdown passes in the Cougars’ 49-23 victory over Hawaii.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound dual-threat quarterback showed off his athleticism by hurdling over players, scored on a designed 23-yard touchdown run, juking multiple defenders in the process en route to the end zone (see video below). For many Cougar fans, it brought back memories of Taysom Hill.
Wilson also set a record as he became the first true freshman quarterback — making his first career start — to throw for three touchdown passes in program history. His play was so impressive, the BYU Football Twitter account temporarily changed its name at halftime to the “Zach Wilson Fan Account” after witnessing an amazing first half.
But there were some things left that need to be worked on. So with that, here is a breakdown of both the good and the bad of Zach Wilson’s first start.
— Fan Insider (@FanInsider_) October 17, 2018
Wilson set several records in his debut Saturday night. Besides the touchdown record, the true freshman also finished the night with a 167.5 pass efficiency rating.
When asked on Wilson’s performance in his first career start, BYU senior wide receiver Dylan Collie looked at the stat sheet and said with a smile, “49 points, that’s pretty dang good. For a 19-year-old kid to come in and play as confident and to be as confident as he was, to be honest I don’t think a lot of kids could do it. Zach did it and I know he will continue to do it because his preparation will continue to stay the same. I have a lot of faith in him and I know everyone else does too.”
Some of the best plays of the night included Wilson’s beautiful 23-yard touchdown run. On 3rd-and-15, the designed quarterback run fooled the entire defense as Wilson ran untouched into the end zone after juking two defenders. Wilson’s ability to make plays with his feet is something the Cougar offense couldn’t do before because of Mangum’s lack of mobility.
Wilson also showed off his passing ability with short, intermediate and long touchdown throws. Three plays quickly stand out. The first took place in the first half when Wilson stepped up into the pocket before finding fellow freshman tight end Dallin Holker for a 13-yard touchdown. Instead of taking off and running as most freshman quarterbacks do, Wilson kept his eyes downfield which led to the touchdown pass.
The second play was hitting junior wide receiver Aleva Hifo in stride in the second half. The ball was right on the money which allowed Hifo to keep his momentum and speed to get to the edge and make a big play.
The third play was near the end of the game when Wilson threw a perfectly-thrown 26-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Gunner Romney. The pass was right on the money and like the other plays, hit the receiver in stride, something Mangum has struggled with his entire career.
Yes, Wilson broke numerous records in his debut and he led the team to 49 points, however, he did have a number of mistakes that we need to address.
When asked about Wilson’s performance after the game, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake was pleased, but at the same time, did address some areas that he would like the quarterback to clean up next time.
“There were some really good things. I’m not happy about the pick that he threw. I felt he got a little greedy and tried to think too highly of himself or tried to fit the ball in there. He knew already that we can’t make those types of mistakes. There are a few other things that he himself can do better at. For what we recruited him to do, he did well. I’m pleased with the way that he led the team and he’s going to keep competing and he’ll try and keep that spot.” — Kalani Sitake
Some of Wilson’s mistakes came when he forced throws. While there weren’t very many, he did have back-to-back passes in the second quarter aimed at Matt Bushman that were wild throws, one of which should have been intercepted with the other pass being intercepted.
That brings up my next point about Wilson needing to throw the ball away. Because of the person and athlete that he is, Wilson does not want to give up on a play. So by trying to extend every single play, the freshman is more likely to take a big sack or turn the ball over.
This style of play also is tough on the offensive line with players picking up more holding penalties which is exactly what we saw in the first half as Wilson tried to extend a broken play in the red zone. However, the dual-threat quarterback made up for it with his 23-yard touchdown run to give BYU an early 14-0 lead.
Lastly, in the game against Hawaii there were 5-6 times where Wilson should have thrown the ball out of bounds, but instead, ran out of bounds and kept taking a 3-4 yard loss in the process.
I give Wilson an A- for his performance against Hawaii. If it weren’t for his interception or taking losses when he should have thrown the ball away, Wilson would have received a perfect grade.
It will be interesting to see the changes, if any, Wilson makes now that he has a full game under his belt, along with a bye week. If he can learn to throw the ball away and not force some dangerous passes, the Cougars should have no problem running the table before the Holy War showdown against Utah in late November.
Lastly, while Hawaii’s defense was pretty poor and nothing to write home about, the fact that BYU scored 49 points is impressive, especially for an offense that has struggled as much as it has over the past 2-3 years.
ESPN’s announcers had the line of the night on Saturday when they said, “not only did BYU find its quarterback tonight, but they also found their quarterback for the next three years.”