BOISE – The BYU football team brought holiday cheer to a fan base that looked forward to the Cougars returning to a bowl game.
BYU quarterback Zach Wilson was a blue-clad Santa on Friday and he gave gifts aplenty to his fellow Cougars. He went 18 for 18 passing, 317 yards, and four touchdowns. BYU won 49-18 over Western Michigan.
BYU entered the game at 6-6 overall and Western Michigan was 7-5.
The first half of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was characterized by two similar teams taking advantage of the other’s rare but costly mistakes. The second half was all BYU, imposing its will on an over-matched Western Michigan team.
The bowl game started roughly for BYU.
On Western Michigan’s first possession, the Broncos ran over the Cougars. The Broncos successfully converted on 3rd down four times, marching forward for 63 yards and taking more than seven minutes off of the clock.
The Broncos’ offensive strengths would not take them to the blue end zone on their first drive, however.
On 4th down and two at the 22-yard line of BYU, Western Michigan chose to go for it, forgoing the short field goal. The Broncos attempted a pass but failed to convert, getting only one yard where two was needed. BYU’s defense held strong and the Broncos failed get any points on its first and longest drive of the half.
Western Michigan showed its own strong defense by making BYU go three-and-out for its first possession. Wilson was sacked on 2nd and six to make it a difficult 3rd and 16. Wilson ran for several yards on the 3rd down, but not for enough. Wilson’s run would not have mattered anyway because BYU was called back for a holding penalty.
Western Michigan went three-and-out on its second possession and shanked a punt for a total of nine yards. The Cougars punished the Broncos for its huge mistake by quickly scoring the first touchdown of the game.
The Broncos’ Jamauri Bogan ran for 5 yards on the next two downs to get Western Michigan a first down and to get the momentum going again. Yet it was not to be. The next drive ended up going nowhere as BYU prevented another first down.
1st quarter: BYU 7, WMU 0
With 7:48 remaining in the first half, the Broncos attempted to make a short punt that would pin the Cougars deep in their own territory. Instead, the punt was too short, only 24 yards, and BYU was given a good place to score again before the half.
Wilson threw on a scramble drill for 19-yard pass. With a fresh set of downs, the next pass lost three yards to make it 2nd and 13. Wilson approached one hundred yards for the day well before halftime. He would finish with 317 yards in total.
Wilson opened up the field with a ten-yard run. Then came a midfield fumble after strong penetration by the Bronco defense. The stiff Western Michigan defense dashed any hopes of second BYU touchdown in the first half.
On 4th and three with 3:19 left in the half, Broncos quarterback Kaleb Eleby turned a long shot into a touchdown by running for more than 30 yards on fourth down.
BYU received the ball back with 3:07 left on the clock. A few short runs kept BYU moving forward but a false start penalty and a sack on Wilson erased much of the progress.
BYU punted it away and the Broncos showed that they intended to do everything they could with the closing 1:30 of the first half.
The Broncos entered scoring territory with 59 seconds left in the first half.
At 2nd and 10 from the BYU 20-yard line, the Broncos offense stalled on three attempts. The Cougars succeeded in limiting the Broncos to a field goal, giving the Broncos a lead 10-7 with 24 seconds left in the half.
In the first half, Western Michigan had a couple of fumbles that it managed to recover. BYU only had one fumble, but the fumble lead to the Bronco’s only touchdown of the first half. Zach Wilson was practically perfect in the first half, passing 8 for 8.
BYU suffered multiple momentum-ending penalties in the first half. The Cougars had two holding penalties on two second downs that made it too much, too far to convert into first downs.
Second quarter: BYU 7, WMU 10
To open the third quarter, Neil Pau’u made a long catch for a 21-yard play that gave BYU strong momentum early on.
Wilson turned that momentum into a touchdown on BYU’s first drive off the second half. A holding call on Western Michigan moved BYU to the 8-yard line. A touchdown quickly followed on an 8-yard run by Dylan Collie.
When the Broncos got its first shot of the third quarter an unsportsmanlike conduct pushed them back against the end zone.
BYU linebacker Sione Takitaki made a big tackle after a long pass that prevented the Broncos from converting on 3rd down. The tone of the game seemed like it was flipping, but when the Broncos moved to punt a penalty for roughing the kicker gave the Broncos the ball back and moved them 15 yards up the field.
For that set of downs, on 3rd and one the Broncos lost yards and again the momentum was in the hands of the Cougars.
Wilson completed a pass to Dylan Collie for a touchdown that covered 55 yards on only six plays.
Soon after, BYU running back Riley Burt weaved his way around the Bronco defense to run for 37 yards for a touchdown. The score suddenly became 21-10 and the domination was just starting.
With 5:04 left in the third quarter, a Wilson pass to Aleva Hifo sped down the field and expertly caught a one-handed, left-handed catch for 70 yards and a touchdown to put BYU up 28-10.
Near the close of the third quarter, Dayan Ghanwoloku scored a touchdown to end any realistic fears of a Western Michigan comeback.
BYU scored four touchdowns in the third quarter. The Cougars only needed three minutes and thirty seconds of possession to pull it off.
Third quarter: BYU 35, WMU 10
Zach Wilson completed one of his many no-drop passes to Dax Milne for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos continued to push forward, making it into the end zone with 7:37 left in the fourth quarter. The Broncos scored a two-point conversion to make it known that, somehow, they had every intention of winning the game.
BYU answered the bold move of a Western Michigan two-point conversion by scoring a touchdown on the next possession.
Brayden El-Bakri, a big hitter for BYU in 2018, rolled into the end zone to score the final touchdown of a high-scoring offense and defense.
Fourth quarter: BYU 49, WMU 18
Quarterback Zach Wilson is the MVP of the the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
BYU showed in this game that the offense and the defense has found its identity. The dominance in the final game of the 2018 season shows that BYU is ready to turn some heads with the opportunity and possibility of big wins against big-name teams in the 2019 season.
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