BYU has gone through this once before in recent memory, playing a bowl game against a team that had lost its coach at the end of the regular season.
That turned out to be an exciting game, though still a BYU win. It came in 2007, when UCLA fired Karl Dorrell and high-energy defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker nearly pulled off an upset against the nationally ranked Cougars before a blocked field goal determined the Las Vegas Bowl in the closing seconds.
It remains to be seen what kind of strategy and energy Washington has for the Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco, though there's no questioning the future energy of the Huskies program. They lost Steve Sarkisian to his old haunts of USC but gained Boise State's Chris Petersen in the process.
It's unclear if Petersen will have any role other than spectator for the San Francisco game, however, he will not be coaching the Broncos, whom he left after producing a 92-12 record in eight seasons.
"I'm from Washington, so I'm excited for him," said former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore (2007-11). "I think it's scary, the potential there, with what they have and now with Coach Pete. They have a lot of talent, new facilities, and now they have such a great leader with him."
But first things first: Trying to cap the program's first nine-win season since 2000, when interim head coach Marques Tuiasosopo was the star quarterback as a senior.
"It's been a spectacular year, 8-4, and we've got one left. Even though we're celebrating, the season isn't over," Tuiasosopo told the crowd at UW's banquet Dec. 8. I'd like to thank the families, the staff that is here and the coaches who have remained on through a trying time."
Playing BYU, another 8-4 team, should be a trying time, as well.
The Cougars also posted big wins against Idaho State and Boise State (the two common opponents on the schedule with the Huskies) and also sport an up-tempo offense, not to mention a defense that has been designed to stifle standout running backs like the Huskies' Bishop Sankey.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--LB Kyle Van Noy will have one final college showcase before starting workouts for an NFL career, and likely first-round draft status. He played banged up throughout November, though the Cougars wouldn't let on as to how sore the senior was. Van Noy returned for his final season, surprising many teammates and coaches. He had a major game in last December's Poinsettia Bowl, and most figured his personal highlight reel was the end of his time in Provo, Utah.
"I don't think anyone can imagine the attention and exposure and pressure on him. I am trying to downplay it as much as possible," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said of Van Noy. "Teams do a nice job of accounting for him, and the visibility just keeps increasing. And so I am trying to support every way possible so he can just be a college football player and just play. But he's earned that because he is a really good player and his career has shown that."
--Junior RB Bishop Sankey and junior defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha were named Washington's most valuable players and junior running back Deontae Cooper was named the most inspirational during the team's postseason awards banquet at Husky Stadium's Club Husky room Dec. 8. Sankey broke several notable school records during the regular season: rushing yards (1,775), yards per game (147.9), attempts (306) and career rushing touchdowns (36). Not bad for a former Washington State recruit who coach Steve Sarkisian had to plead to get him to come to Seattle.
--Both QB Taysom Hill and RB Jamaal Williams finished with over 100 yards rushing in BYU's regular-season finale at Nevada, marking the fourth time the Cougars have had two 100-yard rushers in the same game. The two sophomores each have rushed for over 1,000 yards this year, becoming the first BYU duo to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.
--Certainly UW fans aren't as hot about Steve Sarkisian leaving, now that Boise State's Chris Petersen is on board. Much of the criticism Sarkisian took was for his in-game tendencies, and the program's tendency to run too hot or too cold -- rather than get weekly consistency (three-game losing streaks were a little too common for most followers). But it's hard to fault how he recruited. He took the job starting in the 2009 season, after the Huskies went winless the previous year, and his first recruit was quarterback Keith Price, who will wrap up his career against BYU. He's become one of the best in school history and has thrown for 2,843 yards this year.
BOWL HISTORY: BYU is 6-2 in bowl games under coach Bronco Mendenhall, including wins in the last four. This may be their best challenge in several years, however, facing a Pac-12 Conference team that also went 8-4 but fought through a rigorous schedule and has a dual-threat quarterback that can cause the Cougars fits. UW went 1-2 in bowl games with Steve Sarkisian, and quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo gets a chance to showcase himself for recently hired Chris Petersen, who will take over after the bowl game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "From one Husky to another, I'm proud of you. But we're not done. We're going to go show the world, show the Pac-12, what the Huskies are all about." -- Washington interim head coach Marques Tuiasosopo to his team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Sophomore BYU running back Jamaal Williams has 1,202 rushing yards this season and 2,016 for his career, placing him No. 10 all-time at BYU. He is on pace to become one of the best in school history, which is what his counterpart carries as status already. Bishop Sankey leads a group that helped make Washington eighth in the nation in total offense (514 yards per game). Sankey himself had 1,775 yards and averaged six per carry.
Scouting the passing game: Washington and BYU share the idea that to throw is great. To be able to run and throw is better. Washington's Keith Price was a machine, most notably completing 20 passes and throwing only five interceptions. Sophomore Taysom Hill slumped in November for BYU, even throwing three interceptions against FCS member Idaho State. But he did wrap up the regular season completing 14-of-18 passes against Nevada (albeit only 98 yards) for his best completion percentage of the year. Both teams were in their first year with no-huddle, up-tempo offenses.
Scouting the run defense: The teams couldn't be any closer when it comes to trying to stop opponents, especially the run. UW and BYU are ranked 50th and 51st respectively in the country in total defense, allowing 382 and 384 total yards per game. BYU relies on a front seven that has been stout at holding running backs below their season average. That included a total shutdown of Texas in September. Washington relies on a swift defense line to go after sacks. Now-gone coach Steve Sarkisian thought his team fared well against similar up-tempo offenses because he consistently had his starters go against each other in fall camp to get used to playing and substituting at a fast pace.
Scouting the pass defense: In obvious passing situations, Washington came to be known for a "Cheetah" coverage that focused on fast rushes off the edge to force quick, often errant throws. BYU will also rely on its D-line to cut down a quarterback's delivery time. The Cougars really have to after suffering five significant injuries in their defensive backfield, including three in fall camp. They reached the point that they were converting receivers like Michael Davis near the end of the year in order to cope.
Scouting the special teams: Travis Coons will be an important factor, presumably, considering he's one of the few at the FBS level who handles multiple roles. Coons, who handles all kicks and punts for Washington, was honored as a punter on the second-team and as a kicker on the honorable mention list for Pac-12 honors. The senior punted 56 times for a 40.7-yard average while also connecting of 14 out of 15 field-goal attempts. The player to watch for BYU -- assuming kicker Justin Sorensen continues his 2013 sturdiness -- is returner JD Falslev. He missed three games late in the season with a broken hand. He's returned the most punts of any active FBS player (87) and can be a roller coaster. Against Middle Tennessee State this year, he had a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown but also muffed three attempts (losing two).
Intangibles: For BYU, it turned to be a bit of a ho-hum year. No national ranking, or any major noise. November crumbled with lost opportunities at Notre Dame and Wisconsin. Though the September win against Texas looked better each week as the Longhorns recovered to be a strong team. But BYU came out flat in its regular-season finale, and the group is so beat up that coach Bronco Mendenhall gave it 2 1/2 weeks off following the Nov. 30 regular-season finale to focus on health and final exams. Washington is playing under an interim coach. But many young players are also facing a chance to impress future head coach Chris Petersen.
--BYU senior receiver Cody Hoffman has caught a pass in 42 consecutive games, second for active FBS players. His streak dates to Oct. 23, 2010 as a redshirt freshman.
--The bowl game will also be a Bay Area Christmas homecoming for 11 Huskies players: Travis Feeney (from Richmond, Calif.); Shaq Thompson (Sacramento); Marcus Peters (Oakland); Kevin King (San Leandro); Scott Lawyer (San Jose); Josh Banks (Stockton); DiAndre Campbell (Oakland); Darrell Daniels (Pittsburg); Cleveland Wallace (San Jose); Ross Dolbec (Orinda); and Neel Salukhe (San Jose).
--Keith Bhonapha, a recruiting coordinator and running backs coach at Boise State for the past eight seasons, will join Petersen's staff at Washington, the Idaho Statesman has reported.
--BYU senior DE Eathyn Manumaleuna holds the record for the most games played at BYU with 55. He could get his 51st start in the bowl game, if he's healthy after suffering an unspecified injury Nov. 30 against Nevada that forced him to leave early.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Steve Sarkisian
- Chris Petersen
- Marques Tuiasosopo