BYU coach Kalani Sitake jokingly said Thursday that he expected his true freshman quarterback to play perfectly in his first bowl game.
Zach Wilson delivered Friday.
The former Boise State commit looked right at home on Albertsons Stadium’s blue turf, completing 18-of-18 passes for 317 yards and four TDs to lead BYU (7-6) to a 49-18 win over Western Michigan (7-6) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“He set the bar for himself, but I’ll go ahead and set it even higher. I truly do believe that this kid will be one of, if not the, greatest quarterbacks in BYU history,” BYU senior receiver Dylan Collie said in a press conference. “He’s going to do that. He knows that, and that’s his mentality.”
The 19-year-old’s performance earned him a place in the NCAA record books. He and Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner (2008 EagleBank Bowl) are the only two quarterbacks to ever finish a bowl game completing every pass. Skinner attempted only 11 passes.
Wilson’s 18 straight completions set a BYU single-game record. He also exited the game one short of the record for most consecutive completions to start any bowl game, set by Mike Bobo — now the coach at Colorado State — with Georgia in the 1998 Outback Bowl.
“Although he finished perfect with his completions, I hope he knows it’s OK to throw the ball away once in awhile,” Sitake joked. “I don’t expect him to be perfect in 2019, but being close would be really nice.”
BYU struggled in the first half, entering the break trailing Western Michigan 10-7. But the Cougars turned to the youngest starting quarterback in program history in the second half, and they took off.
He hit Neil Pau’u for a 48-yard completion on the first play of the half, then found Collie for an 8-yard TD two plays later, Collie’s second score of the game.
By the time Wilson was finished, he directed five straight scoring drives of 69, 74, 63, 32 and 54 yards in the second half. None took more than four plays.
“We have to do a better job of getting pressure on the quarterback, but I mean, the quarterback had a great day,” Western Michigan coach Tim Lester said. “It was going to be about what quarterback could get into rhythm, and we said that all week.”
Wilson verbally committed to Boise State last season but flipped to BYU a week before signing day. He took over the starting job Oct. 13 and battled the ups and downs typical of a freshman quarterback.
The schedule first brought him to Albertsons Stadium on Nov. 3, when Boise State sacked him on the 4-yard line to preserve a 21-16 win. But he partially avenged one BYU demon Friday, earning the Cougars their first win on the blue turf.
BYU enters the offseason with seven starters coming back on both sides of the ball for 2019, including its record-setting freshman quarterback.
“I’ve learned more in these past six games than I have in my entire life playing football,” Wilson said. “I’m starting to get more comfortable with everything in the flow of the game.
“... I’m glad we get a W on this field, and hopefully against the Boise State Broncos, we get the W next time.”
MANGUM ENDS COLLEGE CAREER
The blowout allowed Eagle High grad Tanner Mangum to finish his career as the QB on the field. The senior quarterback came in with 7:37 left in the fourth quarter to a roar from his hometown crowd.
Mangum handed off five straight times before rearing back for a 41-yard completion to Collie down to the 1-yard line. It was his only pass attempt.
Sitake said he wanted to run out the clock with a 32-point lead, but his assistants convinced him to give Mangum one shot.
“It was a nice throw, and he’ll have that memory here on the blue turf. If it was incomplete, I would have been upset,” Sitake said.
The crowd chanted, “Man-gum, Man-gum, Man-gum,” as he stepped under center near the goal line, but he handed it off to Bray El-Bakri for a 1-yard TD run.
Mangum set freshman records at BYU for passing yards and TDs but struggled with injuries last season and lost his starting job to Wilson this season after a 3-3 start.
Mangum said earlier this week that he will prepare for BYU’s pro day with the hope of getting an invite to an NFL minicamp.