COMMENTARY – Like most avid college football fans, this time of year is more than just Christmas, New Years, family, friends, gifts and great food. To many people, this is also the time when favorite college football teams get one last chance to clash in bowl games for championships and titles. Other teams (like the Utah Utes) are on the couch at home, watching what might have been them through the holiday bowl season.
It was great to see Utah State win the Poinsettia Bowl vs. Northern Illinois Thursday night and it will be even better when the BYU Cougars take care of business against the Washington Huskies Friday night.
These teams have played each other eight times previously, while splitting the wins with four apiece. However, this is the first time these two storied programs will meet in a bowl game. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall has beaten the Huskies in both 2008 and 2010, and looks to add another win this week. Mendenhall also has a 6-2 bowl game record, including a four-game winning streak in bowls, yet Vegas oddsmakers have Washington the 3-point favorites for the game at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The Huskies will be without their leader as head coach Steve Sarkisian (a former BYU quarterback) left UW for another Pac 12 head coaching position at USC. How will this affect the Huskies? Sarkisian was long-tutored under Norm Chow and Pete Carroll, so he certainly had great experience from both the best offensive and defensive minds in the game of football. I am sure the match-up will not be the same, but he did leave his fingerprint on this UW program. This was the Huskies best season in years, so it makes this match-up a little more interesting with Washington being (at least temporarily) coached by Marques Tuiasosopo.
Coach Tuiasosopo is now the interim head coach as he fills in briefly for the newly-hired Chris Petersen (the former Boise State coach). Tuiasosopo was the QB coach for Washington this season, and for those who don’t remember, he is a legendary Husky player and former 2001 Rose Bowl MVP. This bowl game will be his biggest coaching challenge as he tries to get his team to nine wins on the year. This Washington program may have some adjustments from coaching positions, but I do not think it will hurt the team and its ability compete or will to win. In fact, with the former star as the interim head coach, it could just be the spark they need to pull of a win. The Huskies still have to play hard, regardless of coaching and will want to leave 2013 with a big win over BYU.
Washington played tough all season and was in and out of the Top 25 with some very impressive wins over Boise State, Illinois, Arizona, Washington State and Oregon State. UW has many big-time offensive players who will be facing a weaker 52nd ranked defense in the country, but when Kyle Van Noy is on the field, anything can happen. In last year’s bowl game, Van Noy scored two touchdowns, blocked a punt and had 3.5 tackles for loss.
For the Huskies, the key players to watch are QB Keith Price (20 passing TDs with 258.5 yards per game), running back Bishop Sankey (rushing for 147.9 yards per game with 18 TDs), and receivers Jenkins Seferian, Kevin Smith and Jayden Mickens.
On defense, the Huskies have some great playmakers all the way around and must figure out how to stop the dual threat QB Taysom Hill. BYU has the 10th-ranked rushing and 14th-ranked total offense in the nation. With this being Cody Hoffman’s last game at BYU and another chance for him to improve draft stock, I would look for a big game from him. UW’s game-changers that stand out on defense include Hau’oll Kikaha, a lineman who provides great backfield pressure and causes issues in the passing and running games with 10 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss on the year, and Princeton Fuimaono, who is also a big defensive playmaker with 76 total tackles.
As I have stated all season long, BYU has been inconsistent through much of this year’s schedule. With a few early losses, it looked like it was a doom and gloom type of year, but the Cougars did manage to pull off a five-game winning streak and beat a couple of good programs in Texas, Utah State and Boise State. Becoming bowl eligible is a huge accomplishment, especially with the tougher schedules annually.
I believe if BYU is going to grow and take its program to the next level of competition, this is a must win for the Cougars. I personally like BYU’s chances at another bowl win. If BYU can control the clock by keeping its great ground attack moving the ball, it gives them the advantage. The one thing that remains the questions is if BYU’s defense can rise to the occasion and slow down this very talented Pac 12 offense.
BYU has to come out and control the line of scrimmage better than they did vs. Notre Dame and Wisconsin. If BYU’s offensive line shows up well-rested and plays nasty and aggressive football, it will all fall on to the Cougars defense and I am sure that Van Noy is wanting to go out big with his defense and his last game in blue and white.
The NFL awaits Hoffman and Van Noy and both guys will make huge plays in their final collegiate game. With that going on, it should be five in a row for Mendenhall and the Cougars.
Happy Holidays to you all and GO BYU!!!
Scott Young is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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