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Countdown to Kickoff: (98) Where can Zach Wilson improve in year two?

BYU saw freshman phenom Zach Wilson improve throughout the 2018 season. What areas of his game can improve this next year?

BYU v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

The football season might seem in the distance but here at Vanquish the Foe we’re counting down the days until the first game against the Utes. To help ease out way unto the season we’re going to spend every day exploring a specific question pertaining to BYU Football. Some of the questions will focus on important topics (offensive play calling) and others will explore the subjects of a rather...inconsequential nature. Today we’re going to talk about Zach Wilson.

Last weekend during BYU’s fan fest in Nashville, BYU QB Zach Wilson caught up with the hosts of BYU Sports Nation to talk about his shoulder recovery, the tough schedule and the incoming grad-transfer running backs. Towards the end of the interview Zach talked about how he felt like his “perfect” 18-18 game wasn’t even his best performance of the year.

Some might look at this and thing that he’s speaking in hyperbole, as many athletes are prone to doing so, but after hearing his explanation you see that standard that he’s setting for himself. The game against Western Michigan might have been perfect on the stat sheet but as Zach mentions it wasn’t as challenging because of how open he receivers were. He then talks about how he could improve on working through his progressions and that a good example of that was the game against Utah. He cited specific throws and the fact that Utah was a much better opponent that Western Michigan.

Coming out of the 2018 season it was clear that Zach was physically prepared for playing at the college level. The arm strength to make throws to all parts of the field and speed to turn busted plays in the positive gains was on display. There is very little phyiscally that Zach needed to work on this offseason, beyond getting his shoulder healthy. It’s good to see that Zach is focused on improving his reads and decision making because that’s where BYU will need him to grow.

In Bill Connelly’s 2019 season preview for BYU, he noted that Zach Wilson had a 11.2 percent sack rate, which was nearly four times higher than that of former quarterback Tanner Mangum (3.1). On the surface this might seem surprising considering the fact that Zach displayed superior speed and quickness to Tanner, who was coming off an achilles injury. But when you consider the experience level of the two players, and the different offenses they were running, you can see why Zach had a higher sack rate. Tanner worked as a game manager (making the low risk, high percentage pass) where Zach wanted to push the ball downfield.

Making improvements to take less sacks won’t come overnight but getting the amount of playing time that Zach did last season helps. Getting live reps and more game experience will help his pocket presence as he gets to increase his feel for the speed of the game. It’s not a matter physically getting rid of the quicker but rather making the quick read.

No BYU fan wants to relive this moment but a perfect example of this area where Zach needs to improve comes from the final play in the Boise State game this last year. With seven seconds left and the ball on BSU’s 2 yard line, the BYU offense had either throw a quick pass or run the ball in for a score. Zach dropped back and missed the read where he had Talon Shumway in good position on a slant route to the far side of the field. Wilson took the sack and the game ended. Obviously that one play didn’t determine the outcome of the game but it’s the most clear example of where we’ll want to see Zach improve this offseason.

Another aspect of decision making will be Zach’s ability to protect himself as a runner. Last year he took quite a few shots and he was fortunate not to get knocked out of the game. As a key cog in BYU’s offense, he’ll need to do a better job of sliding and heading out of bounds to avoid unnecessary contact.