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Sitake wants to see Wilson 'let it fly' as punchless BYU gets set to visit Boise State

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson looks to pass during NCAA football against the Northern Illinois Huskies in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson looks to pass during NCAA football against the Northern Illinois Huskies in Provo on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

PROVO — Heading into the final month of the season, BYU is coming off a humbling 7-6 home loss to Northern Illinois and owns a mediocre 4-4 record.

Yes, the Cougar offense is struggling to score points — it managed just a pair of field goals against NIU — and BYU’s bowl hopes are somewhat precarious.

Now the Cougars are preparing for a visit to Boise State Saturday (8:15 p.m., MDT, ESPN2).

BYU is in jeopardy of dipping below .500 for the first time this season.

The Broncos (6-2) are coming off a 48-38 victory at Air Force last Saturday. The Cougars are 0-4 all-time on the Blue Turf, with losses by the scores of 28-27,7-6, 55-30 and 28-27.

BYU true freshman quarterback Zach Wilson, who has two career starts under his belt, will make his first road start Saturday against a program that he once committed to before signing with BYU last December.

Against NIU, Wilson completed 18 of 30 passes for 208 yards and one interception. That pick came with less than two minutes remaining.

“We had two minutes with a timeout left. We should be able to get into field goal range from there,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “Unfortunately, we made a mistake and didn’t see a guy and threw a pick.”

What did Sitake think of Wilson’s performance overall?

“He did some good things. I love his athleticism and his ability to make plays. He prepares well,” Sitake said. “I know he’s taking this loss hard right now. I believe in him and I believe in a lot of our players. When I talk about being aggressive, let the kid go and do his thing. Zach’s a young kid but he’s played a lot of football. … He made a mistake on that pick. I’ll keep telling Zach to be aggressive and let it fly. He’s a gunslinger. We’ve got to let him sling it a little bit.”

Wilson made the most memorable play of the game, hurdling a defender on a scramble near the sideline that put BYU at the NIU 5-yard line in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for the Cougars, back-to-back false start penalties helped prevent them from getting into the end zone. BYU settled for a field goal.

“We had a bunch of stalled drives,” Wilson said. “We kept hitting those bumps in the road where we didn’t extend our drives. … I wanted to punch the ball in the end zone.”

Did Wilson see the offense being aggressive enough against Northern Illinois?

“At times. We could have been better,” he said. “I feel like we’re trying to be aggressive. It’s a full team effort. We’ve got to figure out what we need to do differently.”

Last week, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said that the reason why he replaced senior Tanner Mangum with Wilson was a lack of offensive production.

"We weren't performing well on offense,” he explained. "We weren't moving the ball and scoring enough points consistently and it certainly wasn't all Tanner's fault. There are a lot of guys to blame for our lack of production in those last couple of games."

The Cougars exploded for 49 points in a victory over Hawaii on Oct. 13 but they couldn’t find the end zone against the defensive-minded Huskies.

BYU had 301 yards of total offense, including 93 rushing yards, 2.5 yards per attempt.

The Cougar defense surrendered only 204 yards of total offense, allowing only 2.5 yards per rushing attempt. BYU allowed only one scoring drive — at the start of the third quarter — and that’s all NIU needed.

In October, the Cougars posted a 1-2 record, featuring a pair of home losses, a home win and a bye.

Now, BYU needs two more victories in its final four games to qualify for the postseason.

After traveling to Boise State, the Cougars visit UMass on Nov. 10, host New Mexico State on Nov. 17 and conclude the regular-season at arch-rival Utah.

BYU (4-4) at Boise State (6-2)

  • Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT, Albertsons Stadium
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM