PROVO — BYU entered its bye week on the heels of one of its best overall performances of the season when it hammered Hawaii 49-23.
Can the Cougars keep playing that way Saturday (1:30 p.m., MDT, ESPNU) when they entertain Northern Illinois?
“Things got clicking really well for us on all three phases,” coach Kalani Sitake said Monday of the win over the Rainbow Warriors. “We have to keep building on that. That’s what we tried to get done last week during the week off. We have to keep building on it now going into this game and the second part of the season.”
Northern Illinois (4-3) is also coming off a bye week and this will mark the first meeting between the two programs.
“We’re expecting their best shot,” Sitake said. “We just need to make sure that they get ours. I like our chances if we get that done.”
Sitake was pleased with the way his team took advantage of the week off.
“We had a good mix of extra prep time for Northern Illinois. We had a lot of guys get reps during the week. I also wanted to give them a little bit of a break and get their legs back, knowing it’s the only break they’re going to have all season,” he said. “We hit the weight room and we did a lot of things, got them caught up in academics and just everything that everybody does during the bye week. It came at the right time, at midseason. We got some guys healthy. We’re looking forward to the game Saturday.”
Senior offensive lineman Austin Hoyt was grateful for the bye week, adding that the break will benefit his team.
“By this point in the season, your legs start to feel a little bit heavy and you feel a little more banged up and tired,” he said. “In the bye week, the coaches did a really great job of giving us a couple of days to rest and get our legs back. The week of practice leading up to a game after a bye week is usually a better one because the guys’ bodies are feeling a lot better.”
True freshman Zach Wilson started his first game against Hawaii and he completed 16 of 24 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for another TD.
NIU is much better defensively than Hawaii. Northern Illinois ranks No. 13 in the nation in sacks with 22 and is No. 22 in rushing defense.
“It’s a really good quality team, well-coached,” Sitake said of the Huskies. “They play really tough defense and they have an All-American D-end that’s really active. I think their whole defense is really tough.”
Will Wilson be ready for the Huskies’ aggressive defense?
“I think he’ll be fine because we showed him a lot of that stuff during spring ball and fall camp,” Sitake said. “He’s been in a lot of different situations so I think he’ll be ready for it. He was ready for it against Hawaii. His progress has gone really well from when he got here and January to this point.
"We’re excited to see him take the field again. The offense has made a lot of improvement the last couple of weeks. I’m really excited to see them play against a staunch defense like Northern Illinois. They bring a lot of different pressures. It will be fun to see what happens.”
“Zach did a great job his first game, just his command of the huddle and his ability to make plays,” Hoyt said. “He just needs to carry over that consistency and continue to stay positive this next week and trust that we’ll have his back and block for him the best that we can.”30 comments on this story
Wide receiver Aleva Hifo liked what he saw from Wilson.
“He’s definitely confident in what he does. It shows in the way that he plays,” he said. “The last real game Zach played in was a high school game. So for him to transfer that to a stadium like ours and an environment like ours and come in midseason like that and to do what he did, it’s huge. He deserves a lot of credit.”
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Northern Illinois (4-3) at BYU (4-3)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MDT LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM