BOISE — Just 48 days ago, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson stood at the Boise State 2-yard line, on that blue turf, with seven seconds remaining.
The Cougars were trailing 21-16, with a golden opportunity to knock off the Broncos.
As it turned out, the play fell apart and the true freshman QB, in his first start on the road, ended up getting tackled short of the goal line as time expired — and BYU suffered another gut-wrenching loss in Boise.
The Cougars have returned to the blue turf and they have a chance for a little bit of redemption when they face Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Friday (2 p.m., MST, ESPN) at Albertsons Stadium.
Besides the fact that BYU has a 0-5 all-time record here against Boise State, there’s even more at stake.
The Cougars (6-6) are looking for a victory to secure a winning record this season.
Standing in their way are the Western Michigan Broncos (7-5).
“They’re a pretty sound team. They mix it up blitzing-wise. They have some good players,” Wilson said of Western Michigan of the Mid-American Conference. “We’ve got to come out and play like we’ve been building each game and not let things go. Not go in like, hey, you could tell we just had a couple of weeks off, but look like we’ve improved the last couple of weeks.”
How does coach Kalani Sitake expect Wilson to play Friday?
“Perfectly. That’s what I’m praying for, perfect play from everyone,” Sitake joked. "We've really liked the preparation. It’s a funny game sometimes. What we can do is minimize mistakes as a team. Zach just has to do his job. He doesn’t have to do anything crazy, just stay within the realm of his responsibilities and I think we’ll be fine. I’ve been really impressed with how he’s taken the field and the improvement he’s made week to week. We’re looking forward to seeing him get out there and play and give these seniors a chance to get a win.”
For Western Michigan's defense, which gives up an average of 33 points per game, a big part of the game plan is geared around stopping Wilson.
“We’re just focused on keeping that quarterback contained because he can move pretty well,” said Bronco linebacker Alex Grace.
Offensive lineman Tristen Hoge expects the offense to look sharp despite the month-long layoff since the end of the regular season.
“This offense has been taking everything seriously, improving every day, not taking those days off,” he said. “The seriousness that we’re approaching this game with and the focus that we’re going into it with, I expect a really good showing by our guys.”
However, the Cougar running attack is shorthanded as Matt Hadley is out with an injury while the status of Squally Canada and Lopini Katoa is uncertain.
“There’s been a lot of changes at quarterback and running back," said offensive tackle Austin Hoyt. "We’ve had a lot more meetings together to make sure we’re all on the same page ... A big focus of ours is just being physical, especially in the run game. That’s one of our biggest keys, to dominate the line of scrimmage so we can run the ball.”
Defensively, BYU is without two of their best players, defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi and linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi, who are both sidelined with injuries.
“It’s hard to lose guys like that, big impact players. But it’s next-man-up,” said linebacker Sione Takitaki. “I feel like the guys behind them will be able to fill in. With the scheme we have, they’ll be good filling in for those guys.”
BYU and Northern Illinois have played one common opponent — Northern Illinois. While the Cougars lost to the Huskies 7-6 in October, Western Michigan beat NIU 28-21 in the regular-season finale.30 comments on this story
"I really think BYU is similar to Northern as far as I think their defense is special," said Bronco coach Tim Lester. "It's a great group. They make you earn everything you get. They are both giving up 20 or less points per game, which in the modern day of football is amazing. Offensively, they have got a young quarterback and they are trying to figure out their rhythm on offense ... Hopefully, these guys take a little bit of confidence in what we did against Northern and what we can do, but we've still got to go do it."
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Cougars on the air
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
vs. Western Michigan (7-5)
Friday, 2 p.m. MST Albertsons Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM