PROVO — Now that BYU has secured a winning season after its 49-18 thumping of Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Friday in Boise, the Cougars can fully turn their attention to the future.
True freshman quarterback Zach Wilson helped send BYU off on a high note by completing 18 of 18 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns against the Broncos. The Cougars rallied from a 10-7 halftime deficit by scoring 35 unanswered points and a total of 42 second-half points.
The 19-year-old QB was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, and his 18 consecutive completions stands as a new BYU single-game record, topping the 14 straight set by Steve Sarkisian and Steve Young.
For BYU, it was a feel-good performance after a gut-wrenching loss at Utah at the end of the regular season. It should serve as a springboard to next season.
“Yeah, I think this was a must for us. We didn't get the win against Utah, but I think we proved a lot with what we are capable of on offense. We wanted to build on that this next game, and we knew that we had to play well. I think this is great momentum building into our offseason,” Wilson said. “I think we're going to come out of the offseason with a lot of energy, and I know guys are going to be excited about next year's schedule. We're going to be making sure everyone is on top of each other and making sure we are all getting better together and making sure guys are coming out and throwing.”
Wilson said that linebacker Sione Takitaki, who finished his BYU career by recording 19 tackles in the bowl game, set a tone during last offseason.
“You know, Sione was the leader of that. I remember I came out in summer every single day and he was out there working, and it's paying off for him,” Wilson said. “I think that's what we need from the whole team this offseason. I think the guys are excited about what's to come for BYU football and we're proving ourselves in the passing game and in the running game. I just hope we excel with that going into this offseason.”
A year after finishing 4-9, BYU produced a 7-6 campaign in 2018, and it is looking for continued improvement going into the 2019 season, which kicks off on Aug. 29 at home against archrival Utah.
Senior wide receiver Dylan Collie caught a season-high six passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns against Western Michigan. Going into the game, Collie had caught 18 passes for 153 yards and one TD all season.
Friday’s performance meant a lot to Collie and to his team.
“It's huge. I think everything that happened from the get-go and the entire season, it was filled with a lot of ups and downs for the team and me personally,” he said. “To be able to go after that trial and go after those tribulations that we kind of went through all season long, to be able to come out and just finish out on a high note like this with guys that I genuinely do care about, and lucky to call teammates and friends.”
Meanwhile, the Cougars are excited about the potential of all the freshmen, like Wilson, who got a lot of valuable playing time this season.
BYU played 26 freshmen, including 17 true freshmen, in 2018.
“It’s going to be great. They’ve done a great job this year, and they’re only going to get better next year,” senior quarterback Tanner Mangum said of the freshmen. “That game experience helps. They’ve been in some tough situations, but they’ve handled it with poise and maturity. It’s going to set them up to be not only better players but better leaders as well. It gives you a different sense of leadership that you can take into the offseason. That will be good for our program.”
First-year Cougar wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake acknowledged that the season had its rough patches, but he's looking forward to next year.
"There’s so much good that’s come out this year. It’s been a roller-coaster of a season, but the end result is we got these guys into a position that they’re all happy with," he said. "That hunger of some of the stuff we missed out on is going to drive us into the future. Brighter days are ahead.”
Coach Kalani Sitake was happy about the way his team played in the second half in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and he's hoping that performance will carry over to 2019.
“They are resilient in the locker room at halftime and they have been that way," he said. "They have always played hard. I'm really proud of these guys, especially the seniors, and how they showed an example, all of them, and our program. We're looking forward to building on this.”