San Francisco • Smart enough to have been admitted to nearby Stanford University, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill didn’t hesitate earlier this week when he was asked what the Cougars have to do on Friday night against underrated Washington to win their fifth-straight bowl game.
“We need to control the line of scrimmage,” Hill said. “Really, that’s the bottom line. It’s that simple.”
The 12th annual Fight Hunger Bowl — the game’s last visit to AT&T Park — will match a pair of 8-4 teams in front of an expected crowd of around 35,000 and a national television (ESPN) audience.
If there was a common theme to the Cougars’ four losses during the regular season, it was that they were manhandled in the trenches against Virginia, Utah, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. BYU simply didn’t pile up yards and points against those foes like it did against the eight other teams on what was one of the more difficult schedules in school history.
The Cougars averaged 14 points in their losses and 39 points in their wins. So Hill’s assessment is spot on.
“With our ability to run the ball, if we can get a push up front, we will be good,” said Hill, who decided during a church mission in Australia to change his commitment from Stanford to BYU. “If we do that, and I stick to my keys and stick to my reads, and do what I need to do, we are going to be successful.”
But as past games against power conference teams, or Notre Dame, have shown, the Cougars can’t always do that. They dominated Texas and Georgia Tech at the line of scrimmage, but fell short more often than not in 2013, leaving a solid season short of becoming a great one.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall agreed with Hill’s take on the key to the game, and added how important a good start will be — unlike what happened the last time the Cougars played, against Nevada.
“Washington is a much different team than Nevada,” Mendenhall said. “They are not only fast and talented, but they play fast — meaning tempo — and they are very, very sound defensively. They have defended teams with the same style that we play offensively very well. So we expect them to be tough.”
Mendenhall said the Cougars will have to play great run defense against UW’s phenomenal Bishop Sankey, the third-leading rusher in the country. They also will have to contain senior quarterback Keith Price, and not allow him to scramble for extra yards or keep plays alive with his escapability.
The coach who calls BYU’s defensive plays and formations said slowing down the Huskies’ top pass-catchers — sophomore Jaydon Mickens and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Mackey Award winner — will also be difficult. Seferian-Jenkins is especially tough to stop near the end zone, Mendenhall said.
The Cougars have downplayed the fact that Washington will have an interim coach, Marques Tuisasosopo, who will give way to former Boise State coach Chris Peterson after the bowl game. What they see is a team that “easily could be 10-2, or better,” according to Mendenhall.
“What I do know is this is another chance to play a really good team,” Mendenhall said, noting that he considers this season a success, regardless of what happens Friday. “It is not on the road, but at a neutral site, and that is the next best thing to getting a significant road victory which, through independence, the better teams that we play, most of those are on the road, as you can see. So this will be a great mark if we can win this one, away from Provo.”
Oddsmakers have installed Washington as a three-point favorite, perhaps taking into account the Huskies’ coaching situation and BYU’s four-game bowl winning streak. However, the folks who compile power ratings and the like generally have the Huskies as a bigger favorite.
As usual, motivation will be a key factor.
“This game is really important to our football team,” said Hill. “We need to finish this season with a bang. I saw what a bowl win did for our offseason last year. Not only do we want the momentum going into next season, we want it for our seniors, too, guys like Kyle [Van Noy] and Cody [Hoffman] and Danny [Sorensen]. Those guys we’ve battled with for years, we want it for them.”
BYU vs. Washington
P At AT&T Park, San Francisco
Kickoff • 7:30 p.m. MST
TV • ESPN
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 8-4, Washington 8-4
Series History • Tied, 4-4
Last Meeting • BYU 23, Washington 17 (Sept. 4, 2010)
About the Huskies • All four of their losses came against ranked teams. … They are No. 8 in the country in total offense, averaging 514.3 points per game. … RB Bishop Sankey is the third-leading rusher in the country in total yards (1,775). … QB Keith Price has completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 2,843 yards and 20 touchdowns with must five interceptions.
About the Cougars • They have won four straight bowl games and six of eight under coach Bronco Mendenhall. … They are No. 10 in the country is rushing offense, averaging 274.6 yards per game on the ground, and No. 14 in total offense. … QB Taysom Hill, who originally committed to nearby Stanford out of high school, has rushed for 1,211 yards and thrown for 2,645 yards.