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Opponent Q&A: Talking BYU Cougars Football

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Phil Hiatt from Vanquish the Foe gets us up to speed on Kalani Sitake’s team

Mississippi State v BYU Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Earlier this week we had the chance to talk to Phil Hiatt from the SBN community Vanquish The Foe regarding this week’s matchup with the Huskies.

Here’s what we learned in our Q&A:

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UWDP: Zach Wilson has played well so far for BYU, completing over 63% of his passes with just two interceptions against very good competition. How has his play been overall? How about his pass protection?

Phil Hiatt: We all have been impressed with Zach in these first three games. He was a little rusty in the Utah game coming off of shoulder surgery in the off-season, throwing those 2 interceptions on passes that should not have been thrown at all. He seems to be 100% healthy now, and his decision making is drastically better since that week one loss. He’s able to extend plays with his legs, both avoiding pressure to find the open guy or taking it himself.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 USC at BYU
Sophomore QB Zach Wilson has accounted for 17 touchdowns in his 10 career starts for BYU.

The pass protection has been solid all year, with the offensive line playing well and avoiding penalties. The sacks this year seem to be a result of Wilson simply holding the ball for too long.

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UWDP: Micah Simon has 13 receptions so far, averaging over 16 yards per grab. Is he the go-to-guy for Wilson? Who are some other top receivers?

Phil: Simon seems to have become the go-to-guy, but it wasn’t going to be him entering the season. His production has been a pleasant surprise for most BYU fans. Tight end Matt Bushman was the man last year, and he was expected to be that again, but defenses have caught on. Bushman had 6 catches for 62 yards in the first game against Utah. In the second game, Tennessee doubled him basically the whole game and he ended up with only 2 catches. BYU made adjustments for the USC game, and 11 different players caught passes, while no one had more than 3 catches. OC Jeff Grimes is really starting to spread the ball nicely, so any receiver can step up and have a big game. Along with Simon, Gunner Romney and Talon Shumway are precision route runners with great hands on the outside.

BYU v Hawaii
Junior tight end Matt Bushman averaged 17.6 yards per reception in 2018.

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UWDP: Ty’Son Williams is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has carried the bulk of the load in the running game. Describe his running style. How has the offensive line performed in the running game?

Phil: We haven’t had a running back at BYU like Ty’Son Williams since Jamaal Williams, who’s now in the NFL. Ty’Son is a do-it-all kind of back that can hurt you with his speed around the outside or his power up the middle. On a fake end around against USC, he topped out at 20 miles per hour. I mean it when I say that we aren’t used to that type of speed at BYU. He has quick feet and the ability to make fast, hard cuts to find the open space. The offensive line has been phenomenal opening holes for him, as that 5.5 yards per attempt suggests. Against USC, Williams had 19 carries for 99 yards. We’re all hoping he can break that 100 yard barrier against the Huskies.

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UWDP: BYU ranks 89th nationally in total defense and 119th against the run (44th against the pass). Is that mostly about the opponents so far? How has the unit performed as a whole? Has there been a lot of blitzing? Tell us about some of the top players on that side of the ball for the Cougars.

Phil: Yes. Kalani Sitake was very clear about wanting USC to run the ball. He didn’t care how much they ran because, in his words, “that’s not the air raid offense.” That’s why USC had 171 rushing yards, because Coach Sitake knew that’s not what they wanted to do. Aside from that, BYU likes to play with just 3 down defensive lineman, which tends to allow more rushing yards. As a whole, the defense has been solid. Even with only the 3 lineman, they don’t tend to blitz a lot, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting to the quarterback. Khyiris Tonga has been an absolute wreaking ball this season. Just ask USC’s center how he feels about him. Not only him, but Lorenzo Fauatea made PFF’s team of the week last week.

Here’s a video of one of his plays:

Dayan Ghanwoloku in the secondary has provided leadership that has proven to be very valuable to this young secondary.

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UWDP: Some great competition early in the year for BYU which should make the conference schedule seem like a breeze. Has the team gotten through the first three games without any major injuries?

Phil: So far, BYU has thankfully not had any major injuries. The biggest injury to affect the team has been Zayne Anderson on defense. He was going to be a leader at the linebacker position, but he hurt his shoulder against Utah. In the Tennessee game he was moved back to safety, his original position. He must have re-aggravated the injury then, because he hardly played against USC. We’re hoping he’s ready for Washington because he is a great player for us that can match up with any running back coming out of the backfield and can help put a lid on the secondary.

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UWDP: What is your prediction for this game?

Phil: This game will not be a repeat of the absolute beat down Washington put on BYU last year. Zach Wilson did not play in that game last year, and that instantly adds a new dynamic to this BYU offense. BYU WILL have more rushing yards than the 34 they had last year in Seattle. BYU’s crowd was the most raucous it’s been in years against USC, and coming off a win like that they are going to be loud again on Saturday. This USC win put a lot wind in the sails of BYU fans, and there are a good number of them expecting another win over a top 25 opponent. Washington looks to be a better team than USC, but if BYU can keep it close through the first half, I think the crowd could potentially be the deciding factor in the second half once again. Having said all that, I think Washington is the better team and will leave Provo with a win. Prove me wrong, BYU!!

Washington 27, BYU 20

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Thanks Phil. For more on BYU, be sure to check out Vanquish The Foe.