Defenses trying to stop Zach Wilson now have another serious issue at hand.
In eight games against the No. 8-ranked Cougars, opponents have failed miserably to stop Wilson from hooking up with receivers Gunner Romney and Dax Milne and have been equally inept at preventing Neil Pau’u from making big plays.
Now they’ve got a big-time problem rolling over safety help on Milne and Romney and keeping an eye on emerging freshman tight end Isaac Rex.
It’s pick your poison, then be vulnerable to the backside hammer blow.
Boise State found this out quickly last Friday night in Albertsons Stadium. King Rex ate them in chunks.
Here’s the rub. Romney leads the nation in yards per catch at 30. His speed and height give him a big advantage over smaller corners and safeties. Wilson is putting the ball in places where Romney makes monster-yard catches, the back shoulder targets and comeback cutoff routes.
Milne has proven he can get open against almost anybody. His route running, his acceleration out cuts, his high-point balls and uncanny chemistry with Wilson have become legend, something that reminds you of Max Hall to Austin Collie.
Now comes Rex. He’s 6-foot-6, 247 pounds and has the speed, hands, hops and athleticism of Matt Bushman, who was BYU’s leading receiver the past three seasons before injuring his Achilles tendon back in August.
Rex has stepped up. He’s a BYU quarterback dream. He’s a bigger version of Jonny Harline and already has six touchdowns, surpassing Bushman’s four of a year ago.
In just that one regard, he has elevated BYU’s offense, to the delight of Wilson.
Remember that red-zone fade route play BYU tries and tries to run all the time, mostly with regular failure? It was popular with Harline and used some with Dennis Pitta. But generally the past decade it has been thrown with inconsistency and poor execution and timing.
If tight ends coach Steve Clark had a wish list of one play he’d sell his home to have a BYU tight end perfect, it would be that fade route in the end zone.
He can keep his house.
Rex is delivering like an Amazon van.
After beginning the season with just seven catches in the first five games, Rex has easily doubled that amount of production with 14 catches, 142 yards gained and five touchdowns to bring his total for the season to six. That is good enough for eighth nationally in TDs and No. 2 among the nation’s tight ends.
It is safe to say that if you took some of Wilson’s eight running touchdowns, which ties for the national lead in rushing TDs by a quarterback (Alabama’s Najee Harris and North Carolina’s Javonte Williams have 14), and peel off a couple to Rex, he would be higher among national leaders.
You get an athlete that big, that agile, who can make plays in the red zone, you can cover up a multitude of defensive challenges when you have a Milne and Romney chugging along as national leaders and Pau’u in the quiver.
What you see is more versatility in Jeff Grimes’ play calls in the red zone than at any time in his tenure as BYU’s offensive coordinator. You see some of the genius of Aaron Roderick in scheming with players who understand what he’s asking for, and it’s providing big dividends.
In four of the last eight games, BYU’s offense has outgained opponents in total offense by 250 yards.
Today, BYU ranks among the top 10 in five categories, three of them in the top five. The Cougars are third in passing efficiency and No. 5 in scoring offense, total defense and rushing defense. Wilson and Co. are No. 6 in red zone touchdown percentage and total offense, and rank No. 8 in passing yards per game, having shut down the starters before the fourth quarter in most games.
Thing is, Rex is on an upward trajectory. His numbers, especially in the red zone are only going to improve during the remaining games as defenses try to stop Milne, Romney and Pau’u. And as proven against Boise State, nobody can have a sleepy eye on running back Tyler Allgeier.
Does Wilson have weapons?
They’re getting more efficient and brazenly evident as we speak.