BYU catapulted itself into national headlines following back-to-back nationally televised overtime wins. Though they didn’t see their name in the top-25 rankings, the Cougars did receive 12 votes and they look to add to that as they face No. 22 Washington on Sept. 21.
Several BYU players stepped up against Tennessee and No. 24 USC. Quarterback Zach Wilson, running back Ty’Son Williams, wide receiver Micah Simon, defensive linemen Khyiris Tonga and Lorenzo Fauatea, linebacker Kavika Fonua and tight end Matt Bushman are a few players to watch going forward.
Wilson is a sophomore quarterback coming off a big freshman season in which he took over the helm from Tanner Mangum halfway through the season. Wilson received several accolades following his short freshman season, including the MVP award at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, a game where he went 18-of-18 for 317 yards and four touchdowns. Because of his success, Wilson was expected to play a large role for the Cougars during the 2019 season, but after struggling in the season-opening loss to Utah, he didn’t seem to look as good as the BYU faithful had once hoped.
Wilson has erased those doubts over his last two weeks of play, going two games without a turnover — a contrast to the game against Utah where he threw two pick-sixes. Since the season-opener, the sophomore quarterback has gone 39 of 62 for 512 yards and two touchdowns with an efficiency rating of 142.99.
Wilson has also dazzled on the ground, showing the nation his quick footwork and ability to escape pressure. On Sept. 14 against No. 24 USC, Wilson evaded a pair of Trojan defensive lineman before threading the needle and finding Gunner Romney 35-yards downfield. This drive eventually ended in a Wilson touchdown.
Williams’ potential was often seen during his time with the University of South Carolina and during his first game as a Cougar. Williams was underutilized in his first game with BYU but has since made his presence known.
Over the last two games, Williams has rushed for 191 yards, averaging 5.31 yards per carry. Williams has had a run of at least 16 yards in each game this season and has added three touchdowns to the Cougars offense in the three games.
Simon’s most well-known catch of his career came against Tennessee late in the game when BYU was down by three. With less than 20 seconds on the clock, Wilson dropped back and threw him a prayer. By the time he was tackled, the Cougars had gained 65 yards, setting them up for a game-tying field goal. Simon finished the game with seven catches for 127 yards.
As a senior, Simon is looked at as a leader not only on the field but off the field as well. Simon is often involved in efforts with head coach Kalani Sitake’s More2Life Foundation in addition to frequent meetings with the media. On the field, Simon is quickly becoming one of Wilson’s favorite targets.
Six-foot-four, 322-pound defensive lineman Khyiris Tonga struggled against Utah, but he found his rhythm against Tennessee and USC. Tonga has tallied eight tackles over the last two games including a sack on USC quarterback Kedon Slovis. As a unit, the defensive line played their best game against the Trojans, seldom giving Slovis enough time to make a quality pass. In addition to his tackles, the junior also had two pass breakups against the Trojans.
After recording 13 total tackles in the 2018 season, sophomore defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea has already tallied 10 in 2019. Fauatea had three solo tackles and a sack against USC, good enough to be named to his first Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week. In addition, Fauatea also forced a fumble while sacking Slovis.
Fonua missed the entire 2018 season with an ankle injury that was sustained in camp while playing running back. Upon his return in 2019, Fonua was moved back to linebacker, a move that has proved effective. Fonua leads all BYU defensive players with 30 tackles, 11 tackles more than Dayan Ghanwoloku who his second on the team in tackles with 19.
Coming into the season, it was almost certain that Bushman would be utilized more on offense, but that hasn’t been the case. The star tight end has recorded just nine receptions on the season, but six of those came in the season opener against Utah. With a combined total of three catches over the last two games, Bushman’s potential remains untapped.
The junior is currently on pace to record 36 receptions for 476 yards, 45 yards less than last season. It would come as a surprise if Bushman’s production doesn’t skyrocket from here on out, so expect him to play a larger role as the season goes on.