BOISE — BYU overcame uninspired play in the first half to put forth one of the best halves of football Cougar fans have seen in a while in disposing of Western Michigan 49-18 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Friday.
It was a second half that had the feel of BYU football of years past with the Cougars completely overwhelming the Broncos in what was about as perfect of an ending to an otherwise up-and-down season as most fans could have hoped. Grades are in for the performance of all three units with those grades being necessarily high across the board.
Almost all of the futility put forth in the first half can be more than forgiven by a second half in which the Cougars scored 42 points, including 28 points in the third quarter.
Everything was working and particularly so for freshman quarterback Zach Wilson, who finished a perfect 18 of 18 for 317 yards and four touchdowns. It would be criminal to poke any holes in what Wilson did on Friday, showing poise in the pocket and the type of touch on passes not seen in most true freshmen.
Wilson's play enabled senior Tanner Mangum to come in late, with the Idaho native connecting on his lone throw, a 41-yard completion to Dylan Collie.
As for Collie, he undoubtedly had his best game as a Cougar, scoring two touchdown receptions and catching six passes for 124 yards.
The running game got off to a slow start but hit a solid stride with Riley Burt leading the way. Burt finished with 110 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries, maintaining the running back load well after the Cougars incurred a rash of injuries at the position leading up to the game.
In short, it was what a BYU offensive performance used to feel like, with the Cougars exploiting the Broncos all over the field and with frequency in what was as close to a flawless second-half performance as anyone could have expected. Yes, the offense was mediocre to bad in the first half, but what it did in the second half counts for an enormous amount of extra credit.
The Cougar defense was largely solid throughout, but when considering what the unit was playing without makes the performance that much better. Gone were defensive end Corbin Kaufusi and Isaiah Kaufusi with the Cougars playing what was pretty much a nickel defense throughout.
Yes, the Broncos were able to chew up too much clock with long drives in the first half, but overall the defense gets credit for limiting them to 18 points and just 175 yards passing.
Leading the way was senior linebacker Sione Takitaki, whose performance would have clearly accounted for MVP honors without the type of work Wilson did for the offense. Takitaki was all over the field on Friday, finishing with 19 tackles arguably his best performance over a career that's had many notable outings.
The secondary again proved to be the most underrated position group on the team, covering effectively most everything thrown at it, with safety Austin Lee, in particular, playing well, along with Dayan Ghanwoluku, who saw most of his reps at cornerback.
The rush defense was good, although it was not particularly dominant. What was notable was the group's consistent ability to hold Western Michigan to short yards during critical situations.
Punters Rhett Almond and Danny Jones both had effective punts in what was a game in which special teams didn't play a huge factor, despite the Cougars being flagged for two roughing-the-punter penalties. Max Tooley was the culprit on both penalties, in what was a rough start for the otherwise promising freshman.
Overall the coverage units were very good although the kick and punt returns didn't do much to either hurt or help the team's overall performance.
BYU's season was full of ups and downs along with enough frustration to leave fans increasingly apathetic during the offseason leading up to the 2019 season. But considering how the Cougars performed in the final half of the final game of the year, some good momentum has now been achieved for everyone involved.16 comments on this story
Western Michigan isn't the most difficult of tests, sure, but BYU handled the Broncos in a way most weren't expecting, which is significant. The Cougars came away looking like the superior team over a solid Mid-American Conference squad, which is what should be expected of BYU but hasn't been the reality in recent years.
The Cougars weren't perfect and made mistakes during the win, but the overall play more than made up for each and every flaw. That's a notable improvement moving forward.