Western Michigan peeled apart by BYU's Wilson in Potato Bowl

By Jason Chatraw
Associated Press

Boise, Idaho — Defense has been a significant issue for Western Michigan this season, so much so it led to the firing of a defensive coordinator before the regular-season finale.

The Broncos defense again was picked apart, as BYU — led by quarterback Zach Wilson — was a perfect 19-for-19 passing in a 49-18 victory in the Potato Bowl on Friday afternoon.

It was the sixth time in 13 games this season that Western allowed 40 or more points.

Western (7-6) actually led, 10-7, at halftime before things fell apart.

“I thought our defense did a great job of keeping us in it,” said Western coach Tim Lester, who a day earlier received a two-year contract extension that takes him through 2023. “Once they got a lead on us, they got after our secondary pretty good.

“We knew this game was going to be about which quarterback could get into a rhythm, we said that all week, and (Wilson) got comfortable.”

Wilson set a BYU record and tied the NCAA bowl mark with 18-for-18 passing, throwing for 317 yards and four touchdowns.

Selected the game Most Valuable Player, Wilson tied the NCAA bowl record for completion percentage set by Riley Skinner at 11-for-11 for Wake Forest in the 2008 EagleBank Bowl.

“I’ve been trying to let Zach loose for a long time now,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “I think an aggressive style of offense is what we need.

“This was really good for us to see that we could win a game when a team commits to stopping the run against us.”

Wilson showed that the future is bright for BYU with him under center. And with seven starters returning on a unit that finished the regular season ranked 18th in total defense, BYU will have high expectations.

Wilson, who has no plans to take a break to serve an LDS mission, is the cornerstone for future success. After taking over as the starter midway through the season, he finished his freshman campaign with 1,587 passing yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 221 more. That bodes well for BYU to build continuity on offense, which has had a revolving door at the QB position over the past three seasons.

Down 10-7 at halftime, BYU (7-6) scored 28 points in the third quarter. Wilson connected with Aleva Hifo for a 70-yard scoring strike, and Riley Burt had a 37-yard TD run in the quarter.

Western had 192 yards of offense in the first half, then managed only 41 yards on 18 plays in the decisive third quarter.

The Broncos have plenty of work to do to get back to the zenith of their 2016 success that ended with a Cotton Bowl berth, but the building blocks are in place. Jon Wassink, who started the season at quarterback before suffering a season-ending foot injury, will return along with leading rusher LeVante Bellamy.

The defense returns eight starters, including Drake Spears and Alex Grace, who finished first and second, respectively, on the team in tackles.