San Francisco • Despite having gotten just 16 points out of 297 total yards, BYU’s offensive players were feeling pretty good about themselves at halftime Friday night during the 12th annual Fight Hunger Bowl.
After having to punt the first three times they had the ball, the Cougars began clicking in the second quarter, ripping off big chunks of yardage and scoring on four straight possessions. The only downer was that season-long bugaboo against good defenses — the failure to score touchdowns once they got inside the Washington 20-yard line.
BYU’s sloppy second half vs. Washington
Half Plays First Downs Yds Pts
First 57 18 297 16
Second 40 10 176 0
Something happened to Robert Anae’s offense during intermission at AT&T Park, however. It picked up just 176 yards and no points in the second half, leading to a 31-16 loss to a Washington team that was simply deeper and more prepared than the Cougars.
What happened was UW’s defense made adjustments, and BYU didn’t react quickly enough to get back in the game.
"They started bringing their safeties down," said BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, who threw for 185 yards in the first half and just 108 in the second. "They were playing 10 yards deep, stacking the box. What really [was] clicking for us in the second quarter was a little play fake, then slants, quick hits over the middle. We really sustained a lot of drives through that."
And then Washington adjusted.
"They took that away, and unfortunately, we weren’t able to adjust and capitalize on a lot of opportunities that we had in the second half," Hill said.
It was eerily reminiscent of three other games the Cougars played this season — against Georgia Tech, Boise State and Houston — where they moved the ball like gangbusters in the first half, then struggled to get much going after the break. They were able to hold on to beat the Yellow Jackets, Broncos and Houston, but had no such luck Friday.
Sitting next to Hill in the postgame interview room when the quarterback made the comments about the failure to adjust, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said changes were made to offset what the Huskies (9-4) were doing, but BYU’s players didn’t execute.
"The way to adjust and to beat that is for protection to allow [receivers] to run by [shallow safeties], but ultimately the offensive front has to keep guys off Taysom to allow players to run by safeties," Mendenhall said. "It’s pretty simple."
Washington opened the second half with a 10-play, 62-yard drive for a touchdown to take a 28-16 lead, and the Cougars panicked a bit. They had to punt on their first two possessions of the second half as costly mistakes thwarted series that started with first downs.
Running back Paul Lasike’s holding penalty on second-and-14 after Hill was sacked killed the first drive of the third quarter, and Skyler Ridley dropped an easy catch on third-and-five to cut short the second drive.
"If protection holds up a little longer, we give guys on the outside and inside long enough [time] to run their routes and get open," Hill said. "I would say that would be a big emphasis going into the offseason, my timing with receivers. Adjusting to what the defense presents to us is another [point of emphasis], I would say."
Mendenhall expressed confidence in Anae’s ability to improve the offense next year, repeating what he said after the 28-23 win over Nevada a month ago.
BYU is a "better team" than it was a year ago, Mendenhall said, and played better teams.
"A lot different confidence and a much more unified team," is how he described it. "I am optimistic about where we go from here. I am not discouraged, nor worried. I think we are in a good place."
Then again, that’s where the Cougars seemed to be at halftime on Friday night.
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