Seattle • Even the BYU football program’s most fervent detractors had to admit that the Cougars’ stunning 24-21 win over then-No. 6 Wisconsin was impressive, given how it came in the face of 80,000 Badgers fans a year after that infamous 40-6 beatdown at home.
But we’re here to tell you that if the No. 20-ranked Cougars can knock off No. 11 Washington on Saturday night at Husky Stadium, it would be an even more noteworthy accomplishment.
In a word: matchups.
The Cougars in coach Kalani Sitake’s third season have slowly built a Wisconsin-style attack, and it served them well at two weeks ago at Camp Randall. They went toe-to-toe with the Big Ten heavyweight, and beat the Badgers at their own game. It was power football vs. power football, and BYU eked out the victory.
The Huskies (3-1) are a different animal. Fifth-year coach Chris Petersen has turned UW into a national power by relying on speed, quickness and athleticism. BYU has traditionally struggled against similarly built Power Five teams.
Smoke and mirrors, a few timely passes, the jet sweep and a bruising running game got the job done at the other UW. It probably won’t against these guys.
BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said “you could make a case” that Washington has the best defense the Cougars will face all season.
“They’ve got a lot of size and strength up front and a lot of speed in the back end,” Grimes said. “It will be a real challenge for us.”
Asked if he liked the matchup this weekend, Grimes joked that he wished he were going against a bad defense. Then he would like it. Obviously, he isn’t. The Huskies are ranked 17th in the country in fewest yards allowed (302.8).
“I don’t know that there is a style we feel like we can’t play against,” Grimes said. “Certain teams have certain strengths and weaknesses. I would like to have the kind of offense that is balanced enough that we can take advantage of whatever it is that a defense is giving us, or the areas that may not be as strong as others.”
The defense that held Utah to seven points two weeks ago doesn’t have any weaknesses. Offensively, the Huskies have a four-year starting quarterback in Jake Browning, who will soon become the school’s all-time passing yardage leader. They’ve got a talented senior running back, Myles Gaskin, who is already UW’s all-time leading rusher.
Seven Huskies have already caught six or more passes, including former Provo High star Ty Jones, who leads the team with four touchdown grabs. For BYU’s young and relatively inexperienced secondary, it could be a matchup nightmare. The Cougars will likely be without star safety Dayan Ghanwoloku for the second straight week.
As he was before the Wisconsin trip, BYU coach Kalani Sitake remains unnerved.
“It is just another opportunity to go play a great team on national TV, so we are really excited about the opportunity,” he said. “If you look at the matchups, I like all of the matchups. I liked the schedule at the beginning of the year, and now that we are here against Washington, I am really excited for the game.”
Sitake isn’t buying the theory that the Cougars don’t match up nearly as well with Washington as they did with Wisconsin. He’s also counting on thousands of BYU fans to show up in the Pacific Northwest. Ten years ago at Husky Stadium, an estimated 10,000 Cougar fans witnessed the 28-27 BYU victory. Of course, BYU was the ranked team and Washington was on its way to a winless season.
Now the Huskies are considered the Pac-12 favorites and a possible College Football Playoff entrant.
“We learned a lot of lessons in the Wisconsin game and are looking forward to learning some again this weekend,” Sitake said.
Having visited Husky Stadium many times when he was at Utah, passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick said BYU will need to continue to take care of the football to spring the upset.
“They are not going to give up a big play, and they rally well and really tackle you,” Roderick said. “I would say the difference is Washington has got more team speed than Wisconsin. They are a very, very fast defense.”
N0. 20 BYU AT NO. 11 WASHINGTON
At Husky Stadium, Seattle, Wash.
Kickoff • Saturday, 6:30 p.m. MDT
TV • FOX Sports
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 3-1, Washington 3-1
Series history • Washington leads, 5-4
Last meeting • Washington 31, BYU 16 (Dec. 27, 2013)
About the Huskies • Senior Myles Gaskins is their all-time leading rusher with 4,412 career yards. … Senior quarterback Jake Browning is 190 yards shy of passing Cody Pickett (20,220) as the school’s all-time leading passer. … Former Provo High receiver Ty Jones has caught 10 passes for 202 yards and four touchdowns. … They are 17th in the country in total defense, allowing 302.8 yards per game.
About the Cougars • They have won three of their first four games for only the third time in the last 10 years. … They moved from No. 25 to No. 20 in the AP Top 25 after defeating McNeese 30-3 last week in Provo. … They have 25 wins over Power Five teams since 2003, the most among non-Power Five teams. … They are 117th in total offense, averaging just 320.3 yards per game. They are 28th in total defense, allowing just 328.8 yards per game.