PROVO — In BYU’s 45-20 loss to Utah State last Friday night, senior quarterback Tanner Mangum passed for a season-high 270 yards and two touchdowns.
The senior completed 27 of 46 passes, threw an interception that turned into a first-quarter pick-six and had a 15-yard sack and fumble.
In light of the Cougars’ dismal overall performance, coach Kalani Sitake said after the game that he and his staff would be re-evaluating every aspect of his team and every position.
That includes quarterback.
“We’re at midseason right now,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to give us a better chance next week when we play Hawaii (Saturday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN2).”
Against USU, freshman Zach Wilson entered the game with 3:46 remaining and led a six-play, 77-yard drive in 2:23, culminating with his first career touchdown pass, an 18-yarder, to freshman wide receiver Gunner Romney, who caught his first career TD.
During that possession, Wilson scrambled for 26 yards — the Cougars’ previous best rushing attempt on the night was 5 yards. On that drive, Wilson completed 3 of 4 passes for 52 yards, including a 20-yarder.
Wilson’s limited but impressive showing begs at least a couple questions — would Wilson’s dual-threat abilities breathe life into a moribund BYU offense? Should the Cougars (3-3) start playing Wilson more as a way to invest in the future of the program?
“He’s an athlete. He’s going to make good plays and whenever he’s in he’s going to try his best to help us succeed,” tight end Matt Bushman said of Wilson. “I think that’s what he did when he had his shot.”
During fall camp, Mangum and freshman Wilson battled for the starting job, with Mangum earning the spot. Mangum helped the Cougars win three games, including an upset of Wisconsin.
But is it time for Wilson to get more snaps?
This week, BYU is hosting Hawaii, which is off to a surprising 6-1 start. Quarterback Cole McDonald leads the nation in passing, having thrown for 2,100 yards this season despite not playing in last Saturday’s 17-13 victory over Wyoming due to a knee injury.
In his place, freshman Chevan Cordeiro struggled at times, throwing a pick-six, but he finished 19 of 29 passing for 148 and two touchdowns, including a game-winning 38-yarder with 1:26 remaining in the game.
Cougar senior wide receiver Dylan Collie spent the previous three seasons at Hawaii before transferring to BYU. Collie caught his first touchdown pass as a Cougar against Utah State.
BYU failed to establish the run game against the Aggies and then relied on the passing game as it tried to mount a comeback. The Cougars had just 14 rushing yards until late in the fourth quarter and finished with 39 yards on the ground.
“It was just a change of strategy maybe. We like throwing the ball and we like running the ball,” said wide receiver Talon Shumway, who caught five passes for a game-high 110 yards. “We’ll find our groove. We’ve got all the confidence in the world in our coaches and in each other. From this point forward, I think things will have an upward trend.”
Can BYU figure out a way to get a more consistent, confident offense?
“All of us have to step back and take accountability for the mistakes that we did,” Bushman said. “The defense is working hard and we’re putting them in tough spots as an offense. We need to come out with confidence. We’re a talented group, and when we’re confident, we’re rolling. … We have to take this week and humble ourselves, take accountability for our actions when we’re watching film and learn from it. But also forget it. You have to move on.”
Hawaii (6-1) at BYU (3-3)
- Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT, LaVell Edwards Stadium
- TV: ESPN2
- Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM