The headlines will shift back to the gridiron for the Washington Huskies, who will take on the BYU Cougars in the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park in San Francisco on Friday night.
To say the end of the season for Washington was tumultuous would be an understatement. In the span of a week following the regular-season finale, the Huskies lost their head coach, when Steve Sarkisian jetted to USC, only to replace him with coveted former Boise State coach Chris Petersen. However Petersen will not be taking the reins for the bowl game. That responsibility will fall to quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo.
“I’m thrilled to do it,” the former Washington quarterback said. “I’m thrilled to help them out in this role. I’m excited about this opportunity. Huskies always help Huskies out.”
The big shifts on the sidelines took attention away from what was a solid season for the Huskies. Washington finished a tough trek through the Pac-12 with an overall record of 8-4. The eight wins are the most for a Washington squad since 2001. The record earned them their fourth straight bowl bid after a seven-year absence.
The Cougars finished up their third season as an Independent with an 8-4 record to match that of the Huskies. BYU’s season was highlighted by triumphs over Texas (40-21) and a five-game winning streak from the end of September to mid-October. The success of this season continues quite the run over the nine-year reign under Bronco Mendenhall. The Cougars have been to a bowl in every one of those campaigns, with a record of 6-2 in their previous postseason trips. That includes a 23-6 triumph over San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl a year ago.
“I’m proud of our team,” Mendenhall said. “We are excited to be in the postseason for the ninth straight year with a chance to grow our program facing an outstanding football program.”
A 48-yard touchdown pass from Riley Nelson to JJ Di Luigi pushed BYU to a 23-17 win over Washington when these teams last met during the 2010 season opener. The win evened the all-time series between the programs with each claiming four victories.
There should be no shortage of offense this time around as each of these teams feature units that rank among the top 20 in the country. Washington is the more productive, ranking eighth in the nation (514.3 ypg).
Leading the way for the Huskies is All-Pac 12 First-Team running back Bishop Sankey. The junior back has been incredible this season, amassing 1,775 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. Sankey ranks third in the country behind Boston College’s Andre Williams and Arizona’s KaDeem Carey in rushing yards per game (147.9). Sankey’s production was a major reason that the Huskies set school records in total offense, rushing offense (243.1 ypg) and scoring offense (38.5 pg).
Sankey is not the only player on the offensive side that has garnered national attention. Even though he missed a handful of games early in the season, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins still put together a strong enough resume (33 receptions, 413 yards, seven TDs) to earn the Mackey Award for the nation’s best tight end. Jaydon Mickens (62 receptions, 681 yards, five TDs) and Kevin Smith (45 receptions, 722 yards, four TDs) are also key components of the passing game.
Of course the Huskies also got some strong play from under center during their record-breaking season. Keith Price was hampered by a thumb injury for some of the season but it rarely affected his play. Price finished with 20 touchdowns and 2,843 yards through the air, while completing 65.5 percent of his pass attempts. Perhaps even more impressive is that Price was only intercepted five times.
On the other side of the ball the Huskies have not been as impressive this season. They are allowing 381.9 yards and 23.4 points per game, which has them ranked near the middle of the Pac-12. Hau’oli Kikaha (12.5 TFL, 10.0 sacks) and Marcus Peters (53 tackles, five INTs) each enjoyed impressive seasons that ended in second-team All-Pac-12 selections.
The Cougars are not likely to be intimidated by Washington’s impressive offensive numbers. After all the Cougars are ranked 14th in the country in total offense (495.4 ypg). However, BYU scores at a more modest clip (31.3 ppg) as compared to the Huskies.
For the Cougars, the man running the show is Taysom Hill, a talented dual- threat quarterback just as likely to hurt teams through the air as on the ground. Hill threw for 2,645 yards and 19 touchdowns during the regular season. However, Hill had a tendency to be erratic with his passes, being intercepted 13 times and completing just 54.1 percent of his pass attempts.
On the ground is where Hill really shines as he led the team in rushing yards (1,211) and touchdowns (nine). Hill ran for at least 100 yards in five games this season, including a 259-yard, three-score effort in the win over Texas. Hill just barely edged out Jamaal Williams as the leading rusher on the team though. Williams finished with 1,202 yards and seven scores during the regular season. Williams ran for over 100 yards five times as well, while reaching at least 75 in nine contests.
When Hill is not taking off himself or handing the ball to Williams, the top options through the air are Cody Hoffman and Skyler Ridley. Hoffman (45 receptions, 727 yards, five TDs) has been the most productive receiver for the team, leading the Cougars in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Ridley (34 receptions, 412 yards, two TDs) is reliable, but has not been utilized as consistently.
Interestingly enough BYU is mirroring Washington on defense as well. The Cougars rank 52nd in the country in total yards allowed (383.8 ypg),which has them a spot behind the Huskies on the national stage. BYU also holds foes to a relatively solid scoring average (21.3 ppg). The unit is anchored by linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who earned Walter Camp All-American honors for his work this season. Van Noy registered 63 total tackles, including a team-best 16 for loss, to go along with four sacks and a pair of interceptions.
Even though there is talent on defense for both squads, this game is unquestionably set up to be a track meet. Van Noy will need to be at the top of his game and get some help from the rest of the front seven to slow down Sankey. Similarly the Huskies’ will have their hands full with Hill out of the backfield. When all is said and done the team that makes more plays through the air might have an edge. Even with an interim head coach, the Huskies have the edge in that regard.