admin | Posted: 10 Jan 2019 | Updated: 24 Dec 2020

2018 BYU Football Season Review

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Strong bowl performance and win at No. 6 Wisconsin highlight many improvements achieved by young Cougar team in 2018 

BYU football utilized a strong nucleus of freshmen with key upperclassmen in 2018 to not only improve its results but also offer a foreshadow of greater things to come for the program moving forward. 

Improving upon an injury-plagued nine-loss season in 2017, the Cougars finished 2018 with a 7-6 record that was highlighted by a big road victory over No. 6 Wisconsin and a record-setting bowl performance to wrap up the season. For the first time since 2015, BYU earned a spot in the top-25 rankings during the season and also improved to 2-0 under Kalani Sitake in postseason play with its 49-18 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win over Western Michigan.

The NCAA and the Football Writers Association of America both selected the Cougars as the National Team of the Week following BYU’s 24-21 upset over Wisconsin on Sept. 15 at Camp Randall Stadium. In a strong overall team effort led by running back Squally Canada and linebacker Sione Takitaki, BYU achieved its first true road victory over a top-10 team since 1984 while ending the Badgers’ 41-game win streak in non-conference home games.

The Cougars gained their place in the national rankings during a 3-1 start many hadn’t predicted at the season’s outset. Facing one of the nation’s toughest early schedules, BYU was ranked as high as No. 20 while spending two weeks in the top-25 polls. The performances and leadership provided by key upperclassmen were vital to the team’s achievements while the development and ever-growing contributions of BYU’s younger players factored increasingly into the success and momentum of the team as the season progressed.   

Freshmen Impact & Challenging Schedule

During the season the Cougars played 28 freshmen, including 18 true freshmen, while 14 different freshmen started at least one game. BYU’s freshman class made a combined 75 starts during the season and nearly every position featured freshmen as starters, including quarterback, running back, offensive line, tight end, wide receiver, defensive line, defensive back and kicker.

This influx of young, up-and-coming newcomers teamed with established returning players to navigate a difficult schedule that included 10 opponents that achieved winning records, including six that earned a top-25 ranking during the season. The Cougars played a challenging road schedule that included games at Arizona, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 11 Washington, Boise State, UMass and No. 17 Utah.

In all, half of BYU’s 12 FBS opponents in 2018 earned a national ranking during the season while four teams finished the regular season in the Top 25 and three—Washington (No. 13 AP & Coaches), Utah State (No. 21 Coaches, No. 22 AP) and Boise State (No. 23 AP, No. 24 Coaches)—garnered a spot in the final post-bowl national polls. Overall, BYU’s opponents collectively achieved a 96-72 (.571) record while earning nine bowl berths.  

Season Summary & Results

The Cougars jumpstarted the season with a road win at Arizona while an upset of No. 6 Wisconsin in Madison two weeks later propelled the Cougars to back-to-back weeks in the top-25 rankings. BYU’s 2-1 start, including a three-point loss to Cal at home in week two, was followed with a 30-3 victory over McNeese State to give the Cougars a 3-1 record.

BYU suffered back-to-back losses at No. 11 and eventual Pac-12 champion Washington and at home against soon-to-be-ranked Utah State to enter the second half of the season at 3-3.

Showing promise while striving for more consistency, BYU defeated Hawai’i, UMass and New Mexico State while experiencing close, final-possession setbacks to MAC champion Northern Illinois, MW Mountain Division champion Boise State and Pac-12 South Division champion Utah in the second half of the season to split its final six regular season matchups.

From a final play at the 2-yard line for the win at Boise State, to finishing the regular season on the road up 20 before a late rally by then-No. 17 Utah; the young 2018 Cougar team saw its potential for even greater results fade in the disappointment of four close games against good teams that didn’t go BYU’s way. Those experiences, however, helped the Cougars continue to improve upon their season with an impressive culminating victory at the 2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl over Western Michigan.

Bowl Performance & Postseason Comparisons

Freshman quarterback Zach Wilson was a perfect 18 of 18 for 317 yards and four touchdowns to lead BYU to a 49-18 win over Western Michigan in the bowl game. Other notable performances in BYU’s season finale included the following:

  • Wilson set the BYU single-game record with his 18 consecutive completions and perfect day to earn MVP honors
  • Senior linebacker Sione Takitaki led the defensive effort with his own career-best 19 total tackles
  • Senior wide receiver Dylan Collie led all receivers with a career-high 124 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions
  • Junior running back Riley Burt totaled a game-high and career-best 110 rushing yards and one touchdown
  • BYU exploded for 42 second-half points, the most in any half this year
  • The Cougar defense held WMU scoreless in the third quarter while the offense posted 28 points in the third after coming out of halftime down 10-7. BYU scored 35 unanswered points en route to the victory 
  • The Cougars posted 490 yards of total offense and held Western Michigan to just 313 for the game. The Broncos entered the game No. 30 in the nation in total offense at 447.2 yards per game

As noted below, BYU’s bowl performance not only finished the season strong but also rated well compared to the rest of the college football postseason in 2018:

BYU Offense (compared to all 76 bowl team performances)

  • 327.74 pass efficiency was No. 1 
  • Four passing TDs tied for No. 3 and tied a BYU bowl record (also in 1980, 1994, 2010) 
  • 49 points ranked No. 5 and No. 2 in BYU bowl history
  • Seven touchdowns ranked No. 5 and tied the BYU bowl record (2010)
  • 31-point margin of victory ranked No. 7 and set a BYU bowl record
  • 358 passing yards ranked No. 7 
  • 490 total yards ranked No. 12 
  • One of four teams to score 28 points in a single quarter (joining Auburn, Army and Northwestern) and is a BYU bowl record (topping 27 points in fourth quarter of 1980 Holiday Bowl)

BYU Defense (compared to all 76 bowl team performances)

  • 313 total yards allowed tied for No. 24
  • 18 points allowed was No. 23

Individual Performances (compared to all individual bowl performances)

Zach Wilson

  • No. 1 in pass efficiency (321.26)—a BYU bowl record
  • No. 2 in yards per attempt (17.8)—a BYU bowl record
  • Tied for No. 3 in passing touchdowns (4)—tied a BYU bowl record (also 1980, 1994, 2010)
  • No. 17 in passing yards (317)
  • Only the second player in FBS bowl history to complete 100 percent of his passes in bowl game (min. 10 attempts)—a BYU program and BYU bowl record

Dylan Collie

  • No. 15 in receiving yards (124)—setting a career high
  • Tied for No. 4 in receiving touchdowns (2)

Sione Takitaki

  • No. 1 in tackles (19)—a career high, BYU bowl record and No. 4 overall at BYU
  • Named to the All-Bowl Team by Sports Illustrated and USA Today

Notable Achievements & Trends

During the season BYU had many contributors help the team achieve success on all of its units—defense, offense and special teams. The production from the team is definitely trending up as the Cougars head into the offseason to prepare for 2019.

Defense

Led by senior linebacker Sione Takitaki and senior defensive end Corbin Kaufusi, the Cougar defense proved to be a strong unit in 2018, ranking No. 18 nationally in total defense (324.1 ypg) by season’s end. In achieving the top-20 ranking, BYU’s defense also ranked No. 6 for fewest plays allowed over 20 yards (35), No. 9 for fewest plays allowed over 10 yards (136), No. 22 in pass efficiency defense (115.53), No. 24 in scoring defense (21.4), No. 27 in rushing defense (130.08), No. 29 in pass defense (194.0) and No. 29 in first downs allowed (18.2).

Despite losing some key players to injuries, such as starting linebacker Zayne Anderson, the Cougar defense showed improvement in 2018 in many categories: 

  • Total defense improved from a ranking of No. 51in 2017 to No. 18 by surrendering nearly 50 fewer yards per game (372.8 to 324.1) in 2018.
  • Scoring defense improved 3.3 points per game from 24.7 to 21.4 to go from a No. 46 in 2017 to No. 24 in 2018.
  • Pass efficiency defense was the most improved in FBS from 141.6 to 115.3, ranking No. 22 (ranked 105 in 2017). 
  • Rushing defense improved by 17.54 yards per game, going from 147.62 to 130.08 yards allowed to rank No. 27 after being No. 44 the prior season.
  • Passing defense improved 31.2 yards per game (225.2 to 194.0) to rank No. 29 after being No. 67 in 2017.
  • Long plays allowed (10+ yards) improved from 158 to 136 to rank No. 9 nationally while ranking No. 6 in not allowing plays of 20 or more yards
  • Turnovers gained improved from 16 to 18 and third down defense improved 3.27 percentage points (40.64 to 37.37)

Takitaki totaled 118 tackles, 31st nationally, to lead the Cougars while excelling at his third new position when he switched to middle linebacker partway through the season. He earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors after helping the Cougars defeat Wisconsin and finished his year with a career-best 19 tackles in BYU’s bowl victory. The former defensive end and outside linebacker showed great potential to compete at the next level as a playmaker for the Cougar defense. He added nine tackles for loss, three sacks, four quarterback hurries, three pass breakups and a forced fumble while leading the team in both unassisted (74) and assisted (44) tackles.

Corbin Kaufusi added 56 tackles in 11 games with a team-best 8.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. The 6-foot-9 defensive end ranked 32nd in the nation in sacks and also blocked a kick and had two pass breakups using his tall frame. His cousin, Isaiah Kaufusi, earned a starting role as a sophomore at linebacker and led the team with two interceptions along with junior safety Austin Lee.

Dayan Ghanwoloku finished the season tied for No. 2 nationally with four fumble recoveries while showing playmaking skills both on special teams and at safety, a new position in 2018 after starting the prior two seasons at cornerback for the Cougars. Showing his versatility, Ghanwoloku returned to corner in the bowl game as the Cougars adjusted personnel due to injuries.  

Offense

Under first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, BYU’s offense averaged 10.1 points more a game in 2018, and ranked No. 9 nationally for the largest improvement in point differential (+175), going from -99 in 2017 to +76 in 2018. The offensive was more efficient scoring in the red zone especially, improving from a touchdown percentage in the red zone of just 44.74 percent in 2017 to 69.23 percent in 2018, good for a jump from No. 128 to No. 23 nationally.The Cougars showed great promise with a good number of freshmen earning significant playing time as the season progressed. The team upped its production over the final seven games by averaging an additional 11.2 points per game and gaining 109 yards more of total offense on average each contest. 

The BYU offense employed the playmaking abilities of true freshman quarterback Zach Wilson as the starter during the second half of the season and the talented, young signal caller proved he was ready for the opportunity. Starting BYU’s last seven games and appearing in nine contests overall, Wilson completed 65.9 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,578 yards and 12 touchdowns with only three interceptions for a 157.23 efficiency rating. His pass efficiency rating and completion percentage set BYU freshman records. A dual-threat athlete, Wilson added 221 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground and was one of eight quarterbacks named a 2019 Player to Watch by the Touchdown Club of Columbus following the season.   

Sophomore tight end Matt Bushman led the nation in yards per reception (17.6) among FBS tight ends, which ranked 29th among all receivers nationally (minimum of 20 receptions). The 2017 Freshman All-American led the Cougars in both receptions (29) and receiving yards (511) while contributing two touchdowns. In all, 11 Cougars made double-digit receptions in 2018, including five with 20 or more grabs. Eleven Cougars also recorded a touchdown reception as the BYU attack utilized a lot of skill players, including junior Aleva Hifo who shined by leading the team in all-purpose yards with 358 receiving yards, 129 rushing yards and 135 yards on kick returns.    

Despite several injuries at running back, BYU was able to utilize a number of productive backs during the season. Redshirt freshman Lopini Katoa and senior Squally Canada led the team with 423 and 412 yards, respectively, but both players missed games due to injury. With the injuries, senior Matt Hadley moved from linebacker to running back during the year and added 383 yards, while junior Riley Burt contributed 323 yards on the ground. Katoa (5.6), Burt (5.5) and Hadley (5.3) all averaged more than five yards per carry among BYU’s regular ball carriers, while Katoa led the team with eight rushing touchdowns and Hadley added six. Eight players scored a rushing touchdown on the year.

As a unit, the offense received valuable contributions from a strong core of young players who will return in 2019. Among those returning are four of the five offensive line starters, including center James Empey, who was rated as the nation’s top freshman center by Pro Football Focus and was named to the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team for his outstanding play.

Overall, the BYU offense adjusted to significant injuries such as tight end Moroni Laulu-Pututau and other personnel moves during the season while improving its production and creating positive momentum for the future.

  • Scoring offense improved 10.1 points per game from 2017 (17.1 to 27.2)
  • Red zone touchdown percentage improved 24.49 percentage points (44.74 to 69.23) – 69.23 ranked No. 23 nationally
  • Total offense improved 39.7 yards per game (325.2 to 364.9)
  • Rushing offense improved 22.61 yards per game (130.54 to 153.15)
  • Passing offense improved 17.2 yards per game (194.6 to 211.8)
  • Turnovers lost improved by 10 overall (27 to 17)
  • Scoring differential improved +175 (-99 to +76) +175 ranked No. 9 nationally

Special Teams

Showing the overall strength of BYU’s combined special teams in 2018, the Cougars finished the season ranked No. 4 in the nation on special teams in the ESPN Team Efficiencies rankings.

BYU special teams led the nation in field goal defense, limiting opponents to only seven successful field goals in a collective 19 attempts. Toward that end, the Cougars blocked three field goals, one each by defensive linemen Corbin Kaufusi and Khyiris Tonga as well as cornerback Michael Shelton. BYU also achieved strong results in its coverage units as the Cougars ranked No. 13 in kick return coverage (17.3) and No. 15 in punt return coverage (4.0).

Individually, senior Rhett Almond moved from placekicking duties to the team’s primary punter, where he put 17 kicks inside the 20 and averaged 40.3 yards per punt to help the coverage unit earn its national ranking. True freshman Skyler Southam took over the kicking role and made 42 of 44 PATs and 11 of 16 field goals with a perfect mark under 40 yards. His long of 47 yards was the longest field goal made by a Cougar kicker since 2010 and his 45-yard conversion in front of more than 80,000 fans at Camp Randall Stadium was the game-winner over nationally ranked Wisconsin.

Shelton averaged 7.1 yards per return as the team’s primary punt returner, including a long return of 37 yards, while Hifo averaged 19.3 yards receiving kickoffs as the main return specialist.

  • No. 1 in field goal percentage defense (36.8 percent 7 of 19)
  • No. 4 in ESPN Team Efficiencies for special teams
  • No. 13 in kickoff coverage (17.3 per return)
  • No. 15 in punt return coverage (4.0)

Worth Noting

  • BYU has won five-consecutive season openers after defeating Arizona in Tucson in 2018. The Cougars have opened the season against more Power 5 teams than any school since 2001, also winning the most against Power 5 teams in the first game of the year in that span. 
  • BYU has defeated a Power 5 team in 12 of the last 13 seasons. BYU has 25 wins over Power 5 teams since 2003, the most of any program not in a Power 5 conference.
  • BYU’s win at No. 6 Wisconsin was its first win over a top-10 team since beating No. 3 Oklahoma 14-13 in 2009. The Cougars also beat No. 1 Miami in 1990, No. 4 Air Force in 1985 and No. 3 Pitt in 1984 (the last time BYU beat a top-10 team in a true road game).
  • In snapping Wisconsin’s 41-game non-conference home winning streak, BYU put an end to the fifth-longest streak in the modern era (since 1946).
  • Aleva Hifo did a little bit of everything in the win over Wisconsin with five carries for 45 yards, three receptions for 32 yards and one pass for a 31-yard touchdown.
  • Skyler Southam recorded his longest career field goal with a 47-yard kick against McNeese State. It is BYU’s longest field goal since 2010 against UNLV when Mitch Payne hit a 48-yarder. Southam hit three field goals in the game.
  • Tanner Mangum was 18 of 21 for 160 yards at Washington to pass Gifford Nielsen (5,830) for No. 12 at BYU in career passing yards. Mangum finished with 6,262 career yards after going 1 for 1 in the bowl game to help BYU finish off a perfect 19 of 19 passing day.
  • With Dylan Collie’s 9-yard TD reception in the third quarter against Utah State, the Collie family posted its 39th overall receiving touchdown, the most by BYU players from the same family. Dylan added two more in the bowl victory to increase the family total to 41. His All-American brother, Austin, recorded 30 receiving touchdowns, followed by brother, Zac, and dad, Scott, with four apiece. The Bellini brothers (Mark, 23 and Matt, 15) rank second at 38.
  • Zach Wilson became the seventh true freshman to start a game as a quarterback for BYU with his start against Hawai'i. He followed Drew Miller (1997), John Beck (2003), Jake Heaps (2010), Taysom Hill (2012), Tanner Mangum (2015) and Joe Critchlow (2017). Wilson, who turned 19 in August, also became the youngest freshman quarterback to start for BYU. The New Orleans Saints’ Hill, who ironically also recorded his first career start as a true freshman against Hawai'i (W 47-0), was on the BYU sidelines during Wilson’s first start against Hawai’i this year.
  • In his first career start, Wilson went 16 of 24 for 194 yards for the highest pass efficiency rating of a BYU true freshman quarterback in his first start at 167.5 (Mangum 162.7 vs. Boise State in 2015). Wilson threw for three touchdowns—the most by a true freshman QB in his first start. He also ran for one touchdown, totaling four in the game—the most touchdowns combined (passing/running) by a true freshman in his first start. 
  • BYU started six freshmen on offense against Hawai'i, including Zach Wilson (QB, true), Lopini Katoa (RB, redshirt), Gunner Romney (WR, true), Brady Christensen (OL, redshirt), Keanu Saleapaga (OL, redshirt) and James Empey (OL, redshirt).
  • As an independent team, BYU has had an increased opportunity to play games in NFL stadiums, including this year in Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. With this season's win over UMass in Foxborough, BYU improved to 8-4 in NFL stadiums over the past 10 seasons.  
  • BYU scored six touchdowns on the ground in the win against New Mexico State, the most rushing touchdowns since a 55-53 win against Toledo in 2016. The Cougars posted a season high of 317 rushing yard against the Aggies, the most rushing yards since totaling 338 vs. Toledo. The Cougars also recorded a season-best 510 total yards in the game.
  • Lopini Katoa recorded four rushing touchdowns in the game against the Aggies on a career-best 19 carries and 155 yards. His four rushing touchdowns set a record for a BYU freshman running back. It was also the most touchdowns by a single player since Jamaal Williams recorded five against Toledo in 2016.
  • BYU’s 28 points in the third quarter in the bowl victory over Western Michigan were the most points in a single quarter since BYU scored 28 in the third against Texas in 2014 (41-7 win). It also set a BYU bowl record for points in any quarter, topping the famous 27-point fourth quarter against SMU in the 1980 Holiday Bowl. 
  • In the bowl, BYU had a 100-yard receiver (Collie 124) and a 100-yard rusher (Burt 110) for the first time in the same game since Devon Blackmon (142 receiving) and Algie Brown (134 rushing) against East Carolina (45-38 win) in 2015. 
  • Wilson’s 18 consecutive completions in the bowl game set the BYU single-game record, topping 14 set by Steve Sarkisian (twice, Fresno State and SDSU in 1995) and Steve Young (Wyoming 1982). With a completion to finish the Utah game, Wilson has completed 19 in a row heading into next season. The BYU record for most consecutive completions overall is 22, set by Steve Young in 1982 (8 at Utah State, 14 vs. Wyoming).  
  • According to ESPN, Wilson's 18 passes without an incompletion in the game are the most in FBS bowl history. He and Riley Skinner (Wake Forest, 11 for 11 in 2008 EagleBank Bowl) are the only two quarterbacks to post a 100 percent completion percentage in a bowl game. 

Awards & Records

In 2018, 23 individuals in the BYU football program received various recognitions for their talents, leadership and accomplishments on and off the football field. Among them, Sione Takitaki earned National Player of the Week accolades, seven Cougars were honored as All-Independent Team selections, center James Empey was named a Freshman All-American as the top-rated freshman center in the country and several players set new BYU records. Collectively, the team also earned several national recognitions in 2018. 

Rhett Almond
2018 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team

Zayne Anderson
2018 Team Captain

Matt Bushman
2018 Phil Steele All-Independent First Team
2018 Mackey Award watch list

Squally Canada
College Sports Madness Independent Offensive Player of the Week–Week 1
College Sports Madness Independent Offensive Player of the Week–Week 3
2018 Doak Walker Award watch list

Dylan Collie
2018 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame College Graduate Recognition

Brayden El-Bakri
2018 Team Captain

James Empey
Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team
Top-rated freshman center by Pro Football Focus

Gavin Fowler
2018 Burlsworth Trophy nominee
2018 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame College Graduate Recognition

Mitch Harris
2018 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team

Austin Hoyt
2018 Phil Steele All-Independent First Team
2019 East-West Shrine Game invitation
2018 Team Captain

Austin Kafentzis
2018 Paul Hornung Award watch list

Lopini Katoa
Set BYU record for rushing touchdowns in a single game by a freshman (4)

Corbin Kaufusi
2018 Phil Steele All-Independent First Team
2018 Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list
2018 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award watch list
2018 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame College Graduate Recognition
2018 Team Captain

Isaiah Kaufusi
2018 Phil Steele All-Independent Second Team

Ed Lamb
2018 Broyles Award nominee

Tanner Mangum
2019 SPIRAL Tropical Bowl FBS All-American game invitation
2018 Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team nominee
2018 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year nominee 
2018 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame College Graduate Recognition
2018 Team Captain

Moroni Laulu-Pututau
2018 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award watch list

Butch Pau’u
2018 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award watch list
2018 Team Captain

Adam Pulsipher
2018 William V. Campbell Trophy Semifinalist
2018 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Humanitarian Award
2018 Wuerffel Trophy watch list
2018 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame College Graduate Recognition

Michael Shelton
2018 National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame College Graduate Recognition

Micah Simon
2018 Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award watch list
2018 Team Captain

Sione Takitaki
2018 Phil Steele All-Independent First Team
Sports Illustrated All-Bowl Team
USA Today All-Bowl Team
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl invitation
Set BYU record for total tackles in a bowl with nation’s top performance (19)
College Sports Madness National Defensive Player of the Week–Week 3
College Sports Madness Independent Defensive Player of the Week–Week 3
College Sports Madness Independent Defensive Player of the Week–Week 11
2018 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award watch list
2018 Team Captain

Zach Wilson
2018 Famous Potato Bowl Most Valuable Player
Touchdown Club of Columbus 2019 Player to Watch
Became youngest player to start at quarterback for BYU
Set BYU record for pass efficiency in first start by a true freshman (167.5)
Set BYU record for touchdown passes in first start by a true freshman (3)
Set BYU record for total touchdowns in first start by a true freshman (4)
Set BYU record for season passing efficiency by a freshman (157.23)
Set BYU record for season completion percentage by a freshman (65.9)
Set BYU record for consecutive completions in a single game (18)
Set BYU record for completion percentage in a single game (1.000)
Set BYU record for completion percentage in a bowl (1.000)
Set BYU record for pass efficiency in a bowl with the nation’s top rating (321.26)
Set BYU record for yards per attempt in a bowl (17.8)
Tied BYU record for touchdown passes in a bowl (4)
Ranks No. 2 at BYU for consecutive completions with his active streak of 19

Team
Reveal Suits National Team of the Week (Football Writers Association of America)—Week 3
NCAA Team of the Week–Week 3
No. 25 National Ranking (AP)–Week 4 (first top-25 ranking since 2015)
No. 20 National Ranking (AP)–Week 5
Set BYU record for completion percentage in a single game (1.000)
Set BYU record for completion percentage in a bowl game (1.000)
Set BYU record for most passes without an incompletion in a game (19 vs. Western Michigan)
Set BYU record for most passes without an incompletion in a bowl game (19)
Set BYU record for margin of victory at a bowl (31)
Set BYU record for most points in a quarter at a bowl (28 in third quarter)

2018 Final Season Stats
2018 Game Results, Recaps & Stats