PROVO — In an emphatic 49-23 victory over Hawaii last Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium, BYU snapped a two-game losing streak and played with a physical identity that coach Kalani Sitake has hoped to instill in his team — something that had been missing the two previous weeks.
“We came out with an edge to us, a chip on our shoulder. That’s how you’ve got to play on defense. You’ve got to have a hunger to you. It was amazing to see all the guys respond to that,” said defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi, who had eight tackles, two sacks and two tackles-for-loss. “You can’t really coach physicality. It’s all about bringing it. Everyone’s got to find that fight and that fire. Before the game, you could see it in their eyes. Everyone had that.”
After losing to Washington and Utah State by a combined score of 80-27, the Cougars (4-3) turned things around by getting off to a fast start and dominating the Rainbow Warriors, who have a prolific offense but a struggling defense.
“Obviously, losing two weeks in a row was not what we wanted. We knew that we needed to play a complete game on offense, special teams and defense,” said linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, who recorded seven tackles, a sack, a tackle-for-loss, a forced fumble and two pass breakups. “This is what we had prepared for and this is what we wanted to do. We wanted to play a solid game in all three phases and get a win.”
BYU limited Hawaii to 311 yards of total offense, including 63 yards rushing.
The Cougars now have a week off before hosting Northern Illinois Oct. 27.
“Going into the bye week, we feel good about ourselves,” Sitake said. “We got out of that slump of not playing good football, or our style of football the last two weeks. It’s good to get that done.”
Northern Illinois (4-3) has won three straight games and also has a bye this week.
Senior receiver Dylan Collie was pleased but not satisfied with Saturday’s performance, which produced 474 yards of total offense.
“This is a good place to start. Are we perfect? Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not,” he said. “But we’re on the up and up and that’s what’s most important. This bye week is going to be really good because we can take a look at it and see what else we need to do so these next six games that we’ve got left can be handled in a way we know we can.”
The Hawaii game marked the starting debut of true freshman quarterback Zach Wilson, who completed 16 of 24 passes for 194 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a TD.
Wilson became the seventh true freshman quarterback to start for BYU and the youngest QB to start for the Cougars.
“Luckily, I had a lot of help from my teammates,” Wilson said. “Everyone knows a quarterback can’t be successful without a good line or good receivers or, shoot, a good scheme. Everything was in place tonight.”
Wilson’s 167.5 pass efficiency rating was the best by a BYU true freshman making his first start.
“To be honest with you, I don’t think a lot of kids could do it. Zach did it and he’s going to continue to do it because I know his preparation will continue to stay the same," Collie said. "I have a lot of faith in him and I know everyone else does. We’re going to keep this thing going.”
BYU didn’t put all of the pressure on Wilson to win the game. The Cougars relied on the offensive line to open up holes for the running backs and they rushed for a season-high 280 yards.
“Everyone knows that if you can’t run the ball, it’s hard to win and it’s hard to be productive as an offense. We had a big goal to run the ball,” said center James Empey. “We attacked it with emphasis on technique and being a little bit nastier. We were able to do that.”
Senior Matt Hadley ran for a team high 91 yards and scored his first collegiate touchdown, a 21-yarder in the second quarter.32 comments on this story
“These guys are unbelievable,” Hadley said of the offensive line. “An O-line that knows exactly what they’re supposed to do and they do it, you can’t ask for much more than that. They’re awesome.”
Hadley and the Cougars are hoping Saturday’s performance against Hawaii is a harbinger of things to come heading into the final weeks of the season.
“Today, at least for me, gave us a bit of a spark,” Hadley said. “I feel confident that we’ll be able to turn that into a flame and keep that burning and be more consistent like we need to be.”