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Five Things To Watch For In BYU’s Hawaii Bowl Matchup Against Hawaii

Photo Courtesy of BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey

It’s finally game day. Christmas Eve is upon us and BYU looks to close out the 2019 football season with a victory in the SoFi Hawaii Bowl over the hometown Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Kickoff takes place at 6 p.m. (MT) and pregame coverage begins at 4 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio.

As you put the final touches on shopping and gift wrapping before kickoff, let’s look at the five things to watch for from BYU in tonight’s bowl game.

#1 All eyes on QB Zach Wilson

How does the old adage go, it’s never as bad as you think, right? Some BYU fans were ready to pull the plug on quarterback Zach Wilson during the Cougars 13-3 loss at San Diego State in the regular-season finale. BYU Passing Game Coordinator Aaron Roderick had a different tune saying that Wilson was one of the best performers on offense in that game against the suffocating defense from the Aztecs. Either way, BYU’s offense needs to improve from the three points they put up on Montezuma Mesa. Wilson knows that as well.

Last season, Wilson had a flawless performance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl that etched his name as the quarterback of the future for BYU. One year later, he’s still the clear-cut starter, but he needs another great bowl performance to keep any doubters at bay.

Hawaii’s defense is improved from the one that faced true freshman Wilson last season in his first career start. But they no one is going to mistake them as an elite defense. This is an opportunity for Wilson to leave no questions that he is BYU’s starter at the most visible position.

#2 Running back by committee for BYU

BYU has been decimated by injuries at running back this season but help is on the way. Emmanuel Esukpa returns from an injury that sidelined him the final two games of the regular season. Esukpa, Lopini Katoa, Tyler Allgeier, and Jackson McChesney, could all see carries tonight. McChesney is the one that’s most intriguing because he had a 228-yard performance against UMass but didn’t check in against San Diego State.

Head Coach Kalani Sitake said that McChesney’s absence needs to change and he needs a chance to play. You can make a case for any one of these running backs to get the start in tonight’s game. Whichever back has the hot hand will get the most carries.

#3 How will BYU fare against Hawaii’s two quarterbacks?

There’s a good possibility that Hawaii plays both quarterbacks tonight in Aloha Stadium. Junior Cole McDonald will get the start for the Rainbow Warriors but don’t be surprised to see Chevan Cordeiro see action. Cordeiro was the starter in three of the last four regular-season games before injuring his leg against Army.

Cordeiro is questionable for tonight’s Hawaii Bowl, but if he does play, will BYU’s defense be ready? Cordeiro is a dual-threat quarterback who has passed for 907 yards and ran for 219.

#4 Continue to limit the big plays

BYU’s defense has received criticisms this season for their lack of a pass rush, which is fair. What hasn’t received enough praise is their ability to prevent the big plays. BYU is 6th nationally in allowing 20+ yard plays this season. The Cougars have only given up 37 plays of 20 yards or more this season. Hawaii is one of the more explosive teams this season through the air. The Rainbow Warriors are 3rd nationally in pass plays that go for more than 10 yards, behind only Washington State and LSU.

#5 Urgency, urgency, urgency

It could be easy to be distracted in Hawaii. BYU has been living it up at the Sheraton Waikiki since Friday night and enjoying themselves. Bowl games are a reward, but there’s also a game to win. Will BYU come out with the same urgency that will likely be on display from Hawaii? The Rainbow Warriors are seeking their 10th win this season and experience paradise every day, so this environment is nothing new to them.

When BYU is engaged and feels something is on the line, Tennessee, USC, Boise State, they’ve performed well. Other games such as SDSU, Toledo, and USF have been head-scratchers. Eight wins will sure feel a lot different than seven when measuring progress year over year.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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