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How Zach Wilson’s uncanny accuracy landed him squarely in the national conversation

BYU junior Zach Wilson is the nation’s most accurate passer

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson throws a pass during the first half against Troy Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Provo, Utah. The Corner Canyon High product has the Cougars off to a 5-0 start and brought them into the national conversation.
Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Zach Wilson got a major jump on the college football hype scene through the numbers game.

The BYU junior isn’t letting up.

In fact, he’s surfing waves of adulation that folks in Provo haven’t seen in decades.

Another week, another career game. Wilson’s at the halfway point of the 2020 season, enough of a run to illustrate a solid trend.

It’s impressive.

With games against Texas State and Western Kentucky still to come, games where the Cougars will be heavy favorites at home, he’s on a real ramp before facing Boise State in Boise on Nov. 6.

The pile of numbers should stack up even higher.

During the Alabama-Georgia game Saturday, ESPN put up a graphic entitled “Heisman Watch,” which displayed Wilson side by side with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, considered by many to be the Heisman Trophy front-runner. Both had almost identical weekend numbers throwing for 400 yards with similar attempts and completions.

That’s a lofty hype poster indeed.

Former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware (Houston), the ESPN color commentator during the BYU-Houston game Friday night, told a nationwide audience that in his opinion it was Lawrence and then Wilson as far as ranking quarterbacks he’s seen this year.

The Wilson Hype Train is building steam, adding boxcars with impressive box scores as it runs down the track.

This season, with a replacement schedule significantly weaker than the one designed before COVID-19, Wilson has completed 107 of 136 passes for 1,641 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception during the No. 12 Cougars’ 5-0 start.

Wilson has rushed the ball 32 times for 100 yards and six touchdowns. He has a passing efficiency rating of 207.7, and a QB rating of 83.9.

He is ranked No. 3 nationally, just ahead of Lawrence at No. 4 (passing yards), but is the national leader in completion percentage at .787, ahead of Mac Jones, Alabama (.783), Shane Illingworth, Oklahoma State (.735), and Lawrence of Clemson (.730).

His completion percentages have been .723, .852, .923, .733 and .714 in 2020.

When Wilson arrived at BYU from Corner Canyon High, he had a bad shoulder that required surgery right out of the chute. QBs coach Aaron Roderick said there were times he had to lay off drills with Wilson when he could see he didn’t have it. Still, he cobbled together performances here and there, including a remarkable perfect 18-of-18 passing performance against Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise.

Wilson’s accuracy is what’s keeping him at the forefront of the national conversation. That, and as Ware points out, his variety of throws — while on the run, when under pressure requiring an almost side-throw action, touch passes and accurate bombs thrown into a window about as big as a basketball more than 30 yards down field.

He’s putting the ball where defenders can’t get to them, hitting back shoulders, aiming at high-point marks above his receivers who, so far, have really helped him with huge catches. Dax Milne, a lifelong friend, and Gunner Romney have been superstars all season in completing plays for Wilson.

The six most efficient passing games in the Kalani Sitake era have all come from Wilson, with game ratings of 321.3, 274.1, 223.3, 222.7, 206.0 and 205.1. Four of those six have come in 2020.

To put in perspective the efficiency ratings four BYU quarterbacks once held, in order, the NCAA record for career pass efficiency ratings in the 1991 record book: No. 1 was Ty Detmer (167.7), followed at No. 2, Jim McMahon (156.9), then No. 3 Steve Young (149.8), No. 4 Robbie Bosco (149.4). At No. 5 was Chuck Long of Iowa (147.8) and No. 6 was Houston’s Andre Ware (143.3).

This season, Wilson’s efficiency rating has been over 200 in every game but the UTSA game (177.1). If Wilson quit today, his career efficiency rating would be 165.2 and much of that would be due to this season’s rating to date of 207.7.

The schedule has a lot to do with it, just like it did for Detmer and McMahon back in the ’80s and ’90s. During the Sitake era, BYU has struggled to make plays from the line of scrimmage for more than 10 yards. In 2017, BYU ranked 109th, and 87th in 2018. Last year, with an emphasis on chunk yardage, the Cougars ranked 15th. This year BYU ranks No. 1.

Wilson has accounted for more touchdowns per game this season (18 in five games) than BYU’s offense did in 2017.

So, what does all this mean?

Wilson is streaking nationally and pile driving the numbers, especially with his accuracy.

Wilson owns two of the most accurate passing games in school history, at least since Steve Sarkisian walked off the field at Fresno State with an NCAA record of .912 (31 for 34) for minimum attempts of 30 on Nov. 26 in a 45-28 win. That was a quarter century ago.

In a school filled with All-American quarterbacks, all those Davey O’Brien, Maxwell Award winners and even a Heisman among the bunch, what Wilson is doing is kind of QB nirvana.