BYU quarterback Zach Wilson receives a lot of criticism for his game against Coastal Carolina, but he wasn’t actually that bad.
One of the most common critiques thrown Zach Wilson‘s way is the fact that he played against relatively weak competition at BYU, especially in comparison to his top rival in this year’s quarterback class, Justin Fields. BYU only played two ranked teams over their 12-game schedule in comparison to Ohio State’s five ranked opponents over eight games.
Unquestionably, the toughest opponent that BYU faced in 2020 was Coastal Carolina, who entered as the team’s early December matchup with a 9-0 record and a No. 14 ranking on the AP poll.
Wilson had a rough outing against Coastal from a production standpoint. He threw only one touchdown, marking his only game of the season with fewer than two touchdown passes. His NCAA passer rating of 134.9 amounted to a season-low. BYU scored a season-low 17 points (their next-worst total was 27) and lost its only game of the season.
This game has been used strongly against Wilson in the “quality of competition” argument. He had his least productive game of the year against the only elite opponent he faced all season.
However, when you watch the game back and add some context to Wilson’s performance, he really wasn’t that bad. While it was certainly one of Wilson’s least impressive outings of the season and one in which he showcased quite a few worrying flaws, he still had a strong share of positive moments and would have had a highly productive outing if not for a bevy of drops and mistakes by his teammates.
Overall, the game was a complete Zach Wilson experience. Many of his greatest weaknesses and strengths were put on display – this was by no means an awful performance in which Wilson was exposed by a great opponent, which many seem to believe was the case.
Let’s take a look at both the bad and the good from Wilson in his matchup against No. 14 Coastal Carolina.
Before getting to Wilson’s overlooked good moments from this contest, we’ll start off with the bad. Wilson inarguably had a bunch of ugly moments that came together to make this game one of his most concerning outings.
Wilson airmailed a few throws to the sideline. On a 3-step drop out of the shotgun here, he takes immediate unblocked pressure off the edge on the side of the field in which he is attempting to release the ball quickly on a 10-yard out. He completely misses a wide-open target.
Wilson overshoots his running back on an easy throw into the flat on the boundary side.
This is a reckless play by Wilson that could have resulted in a turnover. He does a nice job of eluding the pressure and extending the play, but he hastily flicks the ball to a teammate who isn’t ready for it (as Wilson isn’t looking his way), and he misses high as well. The ball is tipped up and nearly picked off.
Fumbles are not a major concern for Wilson, as he had only three of them over 12 games in 2020, but this was a ghastly display of ball-handling. Wilson looks to scramble left and just flat-out drops the ball.
Poor job from Wilson under pressure. He misses his wide-open checkdown option as he panics under the oncoming heat from his right side, lobbing the ball while in mid-air and coming up well short rather than stepping up and firing with confidence.
Wilson takes an avoidable 12-yard sack as he drifts backward and tries to extend the play in a situation where it would clearly be best to admit defeat and move on to third-and-manageable.
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Wilson had four passes dropped that would have totaled about 109 yards through the air. If you add those yards to his actual stat-line (240 yards on 30 passes), he would have had 349 yards on 30 passes, a stellar average of 11.6 yards per attempt that would have been higher than any other Coastal Carolina opponent in 2020.
On a flea-flicker, Wilson hits his man right in the chest on a tightly-covered throw against the sideline that travels 36 yards downfield through the air. Drop. This would have been a gain of 25 yards.
Wilson launches a bomb on a vertical route that travels 60 yards in the air and lands right in the bucket against extremely tight coverage, but it’s dropped. This would have been a gain of about 55 yards.
Wilson plants his back foot and fires an accurate laser in the middle of the field for what would have been a gain of about 15 yards, but it’s dropped.
Wilson evades pressure off the right edge and steps up in the pocket, delivering while on the move. He hits his man for what would have been a gain of at least 14 yards – the pass is slightly low, but it hits the hands and the receiver is uncontested – but it’s dropped. Nice job by Wilson of rotating his hips and his shoulders to generate power without having an established base to throw off of.
It’s also worth noting that Wilson’s stat-line was significantly hampered by an incredibly boneheaded play in which wide receiver Chris Jackson turned a three-yard dump-off into a loss of 16 yards.
While he had some wildly erratic sideline throws, Wilson also threw some darts to the outside. It was feast or famine for him on these.
Wilson scans the entire field from left-to-right on this play. He steps up from the edge pressure while keeping his eyes downfield and delivers as he is bumped by his own lineman, hitting his man directly on-target on a throw outside the numbers from the opposite hash.
Wilson gets a pristine pocket and his target is wide-open, but this is still a picture-perfect out-route from the opposite hash that is ideally placed and timed, and probably would have been completed even against tight coverage. Good anticipation by Wilson as he begins his motion before the receiver comes out of his break.
This one is bonkers. From the opposite hash, Wilson hurls the ball 42 yards in the air to the sideline and places it in the perfect spot between the high and low defenders, and at the perfect height where his receiver can high-point it. Gain of 33 yards on a second-and-19 play with the team trailing by five and under 40 seconds left in the game.
Wilson keeps BYU’s last-chance drive going as he evades two rushers and leads his running back up the field so he can continue in-stride past the first down marker and go out of bounds to stop the clock.
Wilson makes another clutch completion as he hits the dig route on-time over the middle.
Wilson finds the soft spot in the zone pre-snap and easily takes advantage of it with a well-placed ball on the sideline that leads his receiver out of bounds. With this play, BYU had advanced 64 yards in 48 seconds to put itself in position to win the game with seven seconds left.
Wilson did his job to give the Cougars a chance to win the game, finding the only open man and leading him toward the goal-line on a post route, but the defense rallied to make the stop just shy of the end zone.
Patrick Mahomes-ian plays from Wilson here as he rolls right and throws across his body while under pressure to find a receiver sitting in the middle of a crowd.
Here’s another look at that play. Moments like this one are what draw Wilson the comparisons to Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.
Removing a 12-yard sack (sack yards are counted as rush yards in college), Wilson rushed for a season-best 67 yards in this game, showing the ability to make good decisions on option plays. He stays patient here and gets the edge defender to bite on the toss before taking off.
Wilson gets two defenders to bite on this fake toss to set himself free for a huge gain with his legs.
Wilson shows off a little bit of speed (at least enough to beat a 260-pound defensive end) as he keeps the ball on the option and jolts to the edge for a first down.
Wilson turns nothing into something on this RPO as he keeps the ball and pump-fakes the unblocked edge defender to get him in the air and open up a lane to rush for a first down.
This scramble doesn’t amount to much, but Wilson shows off some hops as he hurdles a defensive back.
It should be noted that Wilson’s only interception in this game was actually just a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half, so he didn’t have any true turnovers (although he had a couple of turnover-worthy plays as we saw earlier).
Wilson revealed some cracks in his game against Coastal. There’s no denying that.
However, he also put up a ton of positive reps that many seem to overlook. All things considered, he did not shrink under the competition. He played up to it. Throw in the 109 yards he lost via drops and add in his 67 rushing yards, and Wilson had a 400-plus yard performance in actuality.
Yes, obviously you can adjust almost any quarterbacking performance to look substantially better by accounting for drops, rushing yards, and various other forms of context. This was a more extreme case than usual, though. Wilson made a huge impact on the ground and had a multitude of drops on accurate throws that would have been for large gains. His stat-line suggests he had a bad night when that was certainly not the truth.
Look at the Coastal Carolina game as a well-rounded synopsis of Zach Wilson’s strengths and weaknesses – not an example of him failing to perform against top-tier competition.