PROVO — Zach Wilson wasn’t chasing many ghosts on Halloween night against Western Kentucky.
At least in the first half.
Wilson threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, Tyler Allgeier ran for 95 yards and a score, and No. 11 BYU did most of its damage in the first half to cruise to victory over Western Kentucky, 41-10, Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium for the Cougars’ first 7-0 start since the 2001 season and their first win over the Hilltoppers in program history.
Dax Milne caught five passes for 67 yards and a touchdown and Gunner Romney added 59 yards in his return from injury for BYU, which got 52 all-purpose yards and a touchdown from Lopini Katoa.
“I’m just really happy we got the win,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “Obviously, there are some things we have to fix and some things I wasn’t pleased with in losing the second half. We didn’t feel like we were in control of the game. We have a short week, and not a lot of time with Tuesday not being a day we can work.”
Wilson’s quarterback rating of 139.7 was statistically his lowest of the season. The quarterback threw his first interception since the Cougars’ season opener Nov. 7 at Navy, and scarcely found a second-half rhythm before being pulled for backup Gunner Romney with a 25-point lead in the third quarter.
“Credit to those guys (at Western Kentucky) for running a weird defense,” Wilson said. “They tried to throw some different stuff at us, so credit to them. But the thing they gave up was a lot of big plays.
“I think that’s how we countered it: we put a lot of points on the board, even tough we weren’t statistically the best.”
What the Cougars lacked in statistics, they made up for in big plays. BYU had four players rush for at least one carry of double digits, led by Allgeier’s 32-yard carry, and outgained the Hilltoppers 5.9 yards per play to 4.0 despite a disadvantage of nearly eight minutes in the second half.
“It was fun,” said Allgeier, whose team went 4-for-4 in the red zone and scored on their first five possessions. “We all just wanted, relating to last year, to score in the red zone. We couldn’t really do it last year, so we wanted to do that this year. Now we’ve just got to keep it going.”
Wilson set a BYU record with 184 completions without an interception before giving away a pick on the first drive of the second half. The Cougars ran just 27 plays for 98 yards, an interception and two field goals after the break as the Hilltoppers (2-5) dominated time of possession.
Tyrrell Pigrome threw for 106 yards and a touchdown for Western Kentucky, which had more yards (236-100) in the second half after trailing 35-3 at the break.
The win sets up a showdown Friday with No. 25 Boise State, which pulled away from Air Force 49-30 earlier Saturday to move to 2-0 on the Mountain West’s shortened season.
With a healthy complement of starting wideouts Romney and Milne, Wilson and the Cougar offense were firing early. Romney’s 39-yard reception set up Allgeier’s 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and Milne hauled in a 23-yard touchdown strike on the next offensive series that gave BYU a 14-3 lead after the first quarter.
After Isaiah Kaufusi recovered a fumble with the help of Zayne Anderson to end the quarter, Wilson led an eight-play, 39-yard drive finishing with a 5-yard scoring run. The junior signal caller added a 5-yard run and a 42-yard screen to Lopini Katoa, and a 4-yard toss to freshman tight end Isaac Rex en route to a 35-3 halftime lead.
Wilson threw for 203 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 35 yards and a score in the first half as the Cougars averaged 7.1 yards per play to outgain the Hilltoppers 312-100.
And that’s where the Cougars took their foot off the gas pedal.
“I like the first half,” Sitake said. “I think if we can play the first half every half, then we’ll be good. I don’t know if we took enough advantage of those (second-half) reps. There’s a lot of teaching to take place, but it’s good to have that in a win.”
Western Kentucky put together a 20-play, 74-yard drive over more than 10 minutes to open the third quarter. The Hilltoppers were held out of the end zone with a goal-line stand by Isaiah Kaufusi and Troy Warner, but Wilson threw his first interception since the Cougars’ season-opening win over Navy moments later.
That set up Pigrome’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Simon to finally put Western Kentucky in the end zone, down 35-10 with 3:09 left in the third.
The highlight of BYU’s defense and the highlight of the Hilltoppers’ offense occurred within a few minutes of each other — the goal-line stand, followed by the short-field touchdown.
“That was, in my opinion, the best series we had as a defense,” said Kaufusi, who had a game-high nine tackles to go along with his fumble recovery. “We got backed up, and the mentality was we are not going to let these guys score. We took it as a challenge, and guys just stepped up.
“The highlight of the game to me was those four downs right to the goal line. I’m really proud of the defense, and how they stepped up all around.”
The rest was gravy — including a stagnant offense that added just two field goals in the second half, while all three penalties came after the break. One of those, a holding call in the third quarter, even took another touchdown for Allgeier off the board.
It’ll give the Cougars something to work on with a short week made shorter by Friday night’s game on the Blue Turf, where BYU has never won.
No time like the present, Wilson alluded.
“I’m really not reflecting on the past at all,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a new team, and they’ve got a new team. But it’s a great opportunity for us. That’s a great football team, and they do well at home. It’s a big week for us. This is a good football team we’ve got to face.”
10:38 — BYU: Tyler Allgeier, 2-yard run (Olroyd kick)
02:24 — WKU: Brayden Narveson 44-yard field goal
00:22 — BYU: Dax Milne, 23-yard pass from Zach Wilson (Olroyd kick)
12:45 — BYU: Wilson, 5-yard run (Oldroyd kick)
07:44 — BYU: Lopini Katoa, 42-yard pass from Wilson (Oldroyd kick)
00:16 — BYU: Isaac Rex, 4-yard pass from Wilson (Oldroyd kick)
Halftime — BYU 35, Western Kentucky 3
03:09 — WKU: Joshua Simon, 3-yard pass from Tyrrell Pigrome (Narveson kick)
00:00 — BYU: Oldroyd 49-yard field goal
00:58 — BYU: Oldroyd 45-yard field goal
Final — BYU 41, Western Kentucky 10
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No. 11 BYU rolls by Western Kentucky, first 7-0 start since 2001 /p>