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Four Takeaways From BYU’s Loss In The Hawaii Bowl

HONOLULU, HI - DECEMBER 24: Manly Williams #49 of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors tackles Zach Wilson #1 of the BYU Cougars during the first quarter of the Hawai'i Bowl at Aloha Stadium on December 24, 2019 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

Christmas should be a time for a celebration, but that’s the last way to describe the mood of the BYU football team and its fans after Tuesday night’s Hawaii Bowl loss. BYU ends the 2019 season with two consecutive losses for the first time since 2008.

Sorting through the Egg Nog and the malaise that was the Hawaii Bowl, here are my four takeaways from BYU’s 38-34 loss to the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors.

#1 3rd & 2 will live in the minds of BYU fans for a long time

2:17 remaining and two yards to go to seal the victory for BYU. Hawaii called a timeout then BYU called a timeout of their own after seeing Hawaii’s defensive personnel. With plenty of time to mull over what the play call would be, the Cougars opted to pass the football instead of keeping the ball on the ground.

It’s easy to second guess play calls. If it had been converted, it looks brilliant. I get that. But the percentages and the odds were against BYU in that scenario to pick up the first down. BYU had a 90 percent chance of winning the ball game according to the ESPN FPI when the Cougars began their drive.

The odds of picking up the first down become even tougher when the intended receiver was three yards behind the line of scrimmage. It appeared to be a doomed play from the beginning. Would BYU have picked it up on the ground? Who knows. But, BYU’s ground attack was having success behind the Cougar offensive line and running back Tyler Allgeier had a lot of success filling in for an injured Lopini Katoa.

After the incomplete pass on 3rd & 2, the clock stopped, BYU then punted and next thing you knew, Cole McDonald was manufacturing the lone touchdown drive of the second half for the Rainbow Warriors.

In the postgame press conference after the loss, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake was asked about the 3rd & 2 play call and Sitake said the decision to pass was a “collaborative effort.” That’s nothing new, Sitake has used the term collaborative effort since the Boise State game back in October. Tough losses like the one on Tuesday highlight the need for one voice to lead the way for BYU’s offense to find consistency in 2020 and beyond.

#2 Zach Wilson kept BYU in the game but turnovers proved to be too costly

Sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson concluded the 2019 season with a 4-5 record as a starter after the Hawaii Bowl setback. Wilson, feeling healthier than he has at any point this season, passed for 274 yards and ran for an additional 72 in the loss. But the most important stat was turnovers. Two interceptions and a controversial fumble at the goal line put BYU at minus-three in the turnover margin and that cost BYU the game.

The final pass of the season from Wilson was an interception that sealed the victory for Hawaii. It was a tough way to end a drive that saw Wilson’s confidence growing with each and every throw.

Heading into 2020, Wilson has to get better every single day and stay healthy at all costs. In many games this season — while battling injuries — Wilson showed flashes of brilliance. But there’s still a lot of areas to improve from his sophomore campaign.

What can Wilson become as BYU’s starting quarterback when he’s healthy for an entire off-season? That’s still a question that has yet to be answered. He will have two scholarship quarterbacks nipping at his heels in Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney, but competition will always be there. It will be Wilson’s job to lose.

#3 BYU’s defense getting to the quarterback was great to see

Let’s look at something positive. How about the BYU defense coming away with five sacks? Senior defensive lineman JJ Nwigwe recorded two of those with underclassmen Kavika Fonua, Atunaisa Mahe, and Zac Dawe getting to Cole McDonald and Chevan Cordeiro.

Entering the bowl game, BYU had only 12 sacks the entire season. That was positive for a group that had received its fair share of criticisms this season. To limit Hawaii to only seven points in the second half was a turn of events nobody was expecting after how the first 30 minutes played out.

#4 Where were the cameras?

You can’t help but wonder what could have been for BYU on two plays, the Wilson fumble at the goal line and the field goal miss from Jake Oldroyd. That’s 10 points right there and you could argue that they were not overturned or reviewed in the case of the field goal because of no quality camera angles. For being an ESPN broadcast, that left a lot to be desired. It’s 2019 and there isn’t a pylon camera at every college football game?

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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