PROVO — Zach is back, both playing and starting for BYU football.
Zach Wilson threw for 187 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in his first game since Sep. 28 to lead the Cougars to a 42-10 win over FCS Idaho State in front of an announced crowd of 57,379 Saturday afternoon at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Sione Finau ran for 102 yards and a touchdown for BYU (6-4), and Micah Simon ran for 34 yards and a touchdown in the win. Finau became BYU’s first 100-yard rusher since Riley Burt put up 110 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Western Michigan in the 2018 season finale.
Talon Shumway, one of 19 seniors who was honored on Senior Day, caught five passes for 41 yards and two touchdowns for BYU, which got 110 all-purpose yards from fellow senior Simon.
“I’m thankful for our players who played hard and gave the seniors what they needed: a win in their last game at home,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “I’m really thankful for the position we are in right now. We have a little bit of a streak going, and I’m looking forward to getting No. 7 next week on the road.”
Eight rushers took a carry for BYU football, including junior defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga, who scored on a 3-yard dive play in the third quarter to give the Cougars a 42-3 lead.
After a slow start, two punts and a run of early penalties that ended with 12 mistakes for 85 yards, the Cougars opened the scoring via Austin Lee’s interception return for a touchdown. The senior safety collected an errant pass off the helmet of an Idaho State receiver and sprinted 26 yards for the score.
It was BYU’s first pick six since Micah Hannemann returned an interception 46 yards against Utah State back on Sep. 29, 2017. Lee finished with a team-high five tackles and a tackle for loss, in addition to the interception, in his final home game.
That started a 42-3 run that included a 12-yard touchdown run by Simon (giving him a passing, receiving and rushing touchdown in his senior year), a 16-yard score by Finau, and back-to-back touchdown grabs by Shumway.
“It’s always fun, especially when you win,” Shumway said. “It’s kind of sad, being the last time (at home). But it’s not the last game, and I’m happy about that.”
The rough start gave way to the type of game most FBS vs. FCS contenders usually end: with BYU pouring in 449 yards, split between 204 on the ground and 233 through the air, and ending with backup quarterback Joe Critchlow completing 5-of-5 passes for 58 yards in his first game of the season.
But the start stuck with Wilson, even as some tried to blame the rust on his nearly seven-week long layoff that included thumb surgery.
“It’s no excuse,” he said, matter-of-factly. “They were doing some confusing stuff up front, shifting a lot, and stemming their D-line. Some of their D-linemen were yelling ‘Move!’ And it was causing our linemen to react to the noise and jump.”
Shumway quickly quipped “I thought he played well,” as reporters asked Wilson about the game. But he also admitted there will be plenty to improve in the final two games of the regular season — plus a postseason bowl for the third time in Sitake’s four-year tenure.
“It was tough at times,” Shumway said. “Overall, as an offense, we can be smoother. There were a lot of penalties, and we have things we can work on this week. I’m glad we still won.”
Take away the 66-yard scoring drive that ended with Kevin Ryan’s 27-yard field goal, and a 54-yard TD run by Idaho State running back Malakai Rango, and the Cougars held their Big Sky’s Bengals (3-8) to 151 yards.
BYU is contracted to attend the SoFi Hawaii Bowl, which will be played Dec. 24 in Honolulu, and formally accepted the invitation from ESPN Events in a short postgame ceremony at midfield.
The Mountain West has reportedly worked to guarantee the University of Hawaii will receive a bid to the Hawaii Bowl, the Hawaii Star-Advertiser reported prior to the season. The Rainbow Warriors improved to 7-4 with a 21-7 win Saturday over UNLV.
But ESPN’s Pete Derzis couldn’t confirm the Cougars’ opponent after extending the invitation to Aloha Stadium.
“It’s going to either be from the AAC or the Mountain West,” Derzis said. “But that’s to be determined at a later date, once those things get played out.”
“We were happy to invite (BYU). It’s going to be great,” Derzis added. “They have a tremendous following in the Hawaiian islands, so it’s kind of a second home for their fans and alums that are living there. And with a little advance notice in mid-November, hopefully some folks will continue to get their airline tickets booked before the holiday season.”
Rango finished with 142 yards to lead Idaho State. Bengals quarterback Matt Struck completed 11-of-23 passes for 114 yards and two interceptions, including a second-half pick by Dayan Ghanwoloku.
BYU wraps up the regular season with back-to-back road games against UMass and San Diego State.