For all that can be said for Utah’s eight game win streak against the Cougars, BYU’s offense looks to have the potential to reverse that and pull the upset Thursday night in Provo. Highlighted by a veteran offensive line, a talented gunslinger behind center, and an NFL caliber tight end, the “team down south” is brimming with promise.
After taking over the starting spot in week seven last season, quarterback Zach Wilson led the Cougars to a 4-3 record, helping secure bowl eligibility after a 3-3 start from senior Tanner Mangum. Showcasing a strong, accurate arm and a dose of athleticism akin to Taysom Hill, Wilson’s performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan gave rise to his young legend, throwing a perfect 18/18 with 317 passing yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Though Wilson showed good growth and development between his first start and the bowl game, his true potential is now in question following a post-season shoulder injury that has seemingly been slow to heal. By June 1st, Wilson was throwing the ball for the first time since the surgery but was not quite 100 percent up to that point. Now, nearly two months later, fans will finally get the opportunity to see if the surgically repaired shoulder is able to hold up against a formidable Utah defense.
Downfield, Wilson will have a bevy of veteran receivers to throw to, including seniors Talon Shumway and Micah Simon, but it’s tight end Matt Bushman who is likely to cause the most trouble for the Utes defense. Collecting 511 receiving yards last season on just 29 receptions (compared to 520 yards on 49 catches the previous season), Bushman is one of the most electric players on BYU’s roster and a difference-maker on the offense, considering he averaged 17.6 yards per reception last season.
Out of the backfield, the Cougars have turned to South Carolina transfer, Ty’Son Williams as their primary running back in game one. As a member of the Gamecocks in 2018, Williams had 70 carries for 328 yards and four touchdowns along with 9 receptions for 152 yards. Williams was a second string running back for South Carolina at the start of the season but moved to RB1 in week nine after starter, Rico Dowdle was sidelined with injuries. Williams only had two starts (against Tennessee and Ole Miss) before suffering a broken hand that forced Williams to sit out the remaining regular season. In his first start, the Sumter, South Carolina product rushed for 34 yards on 13 attempts with one touchdown.
Of course, none of that matters if the Cougars don’t have an offensive line capable of keeping Wilson on his feet and that can create holes for Williams, and as fate would have it, the offensive line just may be BYU’s strong suit this season. Sophomore center James Empey (6’4”, 300 lbs) and left tackle Brady Christensen (6’6”, 295 lbs) are former freshman All-Americans who look the part of NFL caliber linemen. Add to that the sheer size of junior right guard Tirsten Hoge at 6’5” and 310 lbs and the Cougars offensive front may be one of the biggest lines Utah will face this season outside of USC and Washington.
With the opportunity to tie the all-time record of nine straight wins in the series (a record shared by both BYU and Utah, with the Utes last collecting nine wins between 1929-1937, with the Cougars doing so between 1979-1987), Utah’s defense will need to bring their A-game in order to keep Brigham Young at bay.