Potato Bowl Football

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (11) runs down the sideline against Western Michigan in the first half of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl NCAA college football game, Friday, Dec. 21, 2018, in Boise, Idaho. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)

BYU COUGARS

COACH: Kalani Sitake, 20-19, fourth season at BYU

2018 RECORD: 7-6

POSTSEASON: beat Western Michigan 49-18 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

» A LOOK BACK

The Cougars rebounded from a four-win 2017 to become bowl eligible and rout Western Michigan to finish with seven victories. The offense was a bit hit-or-miss last season (think scoring 49 points one week against Hawaii and then six the next against Northern Illinois), while the defense was one of the nation’s best against both the pass (29th) and run (27th).

The offense appears to be heading in the right direction after true freshman Zach Wilson emerged with 1,578 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also made sure he utilized his wealth of playmakers with no one rushing for more than 430 yards and only one player (Matt Bushman) topping the 500-yard receiving mark.

The defense thrived with Sione Takitaki at linebacker and Corbin Kaufusi causing havoc off the edge, especially in a win at Wisconsin early in the season that helped the Cougars get off to a 3-1 start.

» LOOKING AHEAD

The Cougars’ season will be defined by how well they get out of the gates. BYU has three home games against Pac-12 opponents — Utah, USC and Washington — and a road game at SEC opponent Tennessee. Those four teams pose the biggest challenges for BYU, and a victory (or two or three) could put the Cougars on a path toward certain bowl eligibility.

“More than anything, you just have to be ready for them. We are going to come with a lot of energy for the Utah game and then do that 11 more times and hopefully a bowl game,” Sitake said at BYU’s media day. “When I first got the job, I was looking at the schedule and I got really excited. It can be a hard thing looking at the schedules, but as a player, I would’ve loved to play these games. Playing these tough games early in the year will let me know where I stand and how we can prepare and get the program ready. Just keep it coming. I’ve taken the Pat Hill approach: anytime, anywhere. I feel like the program is in a position where we can do that. How are we supposed to know how good we are if we don’t play the best? So let’s just keep lining them up and see what happens.”

Wilson underwent offseason surgery and he is expected to be ready when the season rolls around. Though, the Cougars did have success last season when Tanner Mangum was pressed into duty, so expect freshman Jaren Hall to be ready to go if there are any setbacks with Wilson’s recovery.

“It’s going really well; he is looking good,” Sitake said of Wilson. “I credit his hard work, our training room, and everyone that has been involved with him. He is on schedule and will be ready to roll. I just expect him to go on the path that he’s gone. He was raised with football being really important to him; he’s a football junkie. I’m looking forward to him leading. I think as a freshman it’s hard to be a leader out there and demand a lot from your teammates, but I think he’s earned that opportunity, and I think Jaren Hall has done the same.”

» WHO’S BACK?

• SKILL PLAYERS

QB Zach Wilson (120-182 passing, 1,578 yards, 12 TD, 3 INT; 75 carries, 221 yards, 2.9 average, 2 TD)

RB Lopini Katoa (76 carries, 423 yards, 5.6 average, 8 TD; 20 catches, 114 yards, 5.7 average, 1 TD)

TE Matt Bushman (29 catches, 511 yards, 17.6 average, 2 TD)

WR Aleva Hifo (28 catches, 358 yards, 12.8 average, 2 TD)

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

LT Brady Christensen

LG Kieffer Longson

C James Empey

RG Tristen Hoge

• DEFENSIVE LEADERS

LB Isaiah Kaufusi (50 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 2 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF)

FS Austin Lee (41 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF)

SS Dayan Ghanwoloku (39 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2 PBU, 4 FR, 1 FF)

• SPECIAL TEAMS

K Skyler Southam (11-16 FG, 47 long, 0 blocked; 42-44 PAT)

» WHO’S GONE?

• SKILL PLAYERS

QB Tanner Mangum (114-186 passing, 1,104 yards, 5 TD, 4 INT)

RB Squally Canada (91 carries, 412 yards, 4.5 average, 5 TD)

WR Dylan Collie (24 catches, 277 yards, 11.5 average, 3 TD)

RB Matt Hadley (72 carries, 383 yards, 5.3 average, 6 TD)

• OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

RT Austin Hoyt

• DEFENSIVE LEADERS

LB Sione Takitaki (118 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 3 PBU, 4 QBH, 1 FF)

DE Corbin Kaufusi (56 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 blocked kick)

CB Michael Shelton (37 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 FF, 1 blocked kick)

• SPECIAL TEAMS

P Rhett Almond (55 punts, 40.3 average, 57 long, 1 TB, 17 FC, 17 I20, 8 50+, 0 blocked)

» WHOM TO FOLLOW

Jared Lloyd, Provo Daily Herald: @JaredrLloyd

Jay Drew, The Salt Lake Tribune: @drewjay

Jeff Call, Deseret News: @AJeffreyCall

BYU Football: @BYUFootball

» SCHEDULE

Aug. 29: Utah, 10:15 p.m.

Sept. 7: at Tennessee, 7 p.m.

Sept. 14: USC, 3:30 p.m.

Sept. 21: Washington, TBD

Sept. 28: at Toledo, TBD

Oct. 12: at USF, TBD

Oct. 19: Boise State, TBD

Nov. 2: at Utah State, TBD

Nov. 9: Liberty, TBD

Nov. 16: Idaho State, 3 p.m.

Nov. 23: at UMass, TBD

Nov. 30: at San Diego State, 9 p.m.

» THE SERIES (home team in CAPS)

First meeting

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550. Follow him on Twitter: @DamienSordelett

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