Fight Hunger Bowl preview: Washington looking to overcome changes against BYU

It has been a wild ride for Washington since the final seconds ticked off of their Apple Cup victory as they lost head coach Steve Sarkisian to USC, who was then quickly replaced with Boise State’s Chris Petersen. But the Fight Hunger Bowl brings a welcome escape from coaching changes with the focus shifting back to the gridiron. Winning four of their final five games, Washington is riding high. The Huskies are led by Doak Walker finalist Bishop Sankey at running back and three-year starter Keith Price at quarterback, who will be playing in his final collegiate game. Former UW great Marques Tuiasosopo, who led the Huskies to postseason success himself as the MVP of the 2001 Rose Bowl, will take over interim coaching duties for this year’s bowl game. Facing off against a program that Washington has clashed with somewhat regularly over the past 30 years combined with a desire to make an immediate statement after losing their coach, it should be one of the most emotional games of the bowl season.

The Rundown

Who: BYU (8-4, Independent) vs. Washington (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12)

What: Fight Hunger Bowl

When: Friday, Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. PT

Where: San Francisco, Calif.

Where to watch: ESPN

The Series

All-time record: Tied 4-4

Last meeting: Sept. 4, 2010 (BYU won 23-17 in Provo)

Stat matchup

Rushing offense: Washington 243.08 ypg (14th in NCAA), BYU 274.67 ypg (10th in NCAA)

Passing offense: Washington 271.3 ypg (30th in NCAA), BYU 220.8 ypg (75th in NCAA)

Scoring offense: Washington 38.5 ppg (18th in NCAA), BYU 31.3 ppg (52nd in NCAA)

Rushing defense: Washington 159.75 ypg (59th in NCAA), BYU 157.42 ypg (56th in NCAA)

Passing defense: Washington 222.2 ypg (50th in NCAA), BYU 226.4 ypg (60th in NCAA)

Scoring defense: Washington 23.4 ppg (35th in NCAA), BYU 21.3 ppg (21st in NCAA)

How they got there

Washington

The Huskies made a huge statement in their opening game by destroying No. 19 Boise State 38-6 on opening night of the renovated Husky Stadium and then went on run the table in their non-conference games with victories against Illinois and Idaho State. They then got their conference season off to a good start with a 31-13 win over Arizona to climb to 4-0 and No. 15 before facing a three-game gauntlet against the Pac-12’s three best teams.

That stretch did not go well for the Huskies as they lost a heartbreaker at Stanford 31-28, let Oregon run away from them in the fourth quarter of a 45-24 loss and then fell completely flat in an embarrassing 53-24 loss at Arizona State. The three losses would drop the Huskies to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the Pac-12, putting massive pressure on Sarkisian to produce a successful second half of the season.

The good news for Washington was that their schedule softened up a bit, allowing them to easily defeat Cal and Colorado in Seattle before heading to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA. The Huskies’ road woes continued in Pasadena as they lost to UCLA 41-31 in a sloppy affair. However, they immediately bounced back by destroying Oregon State in Corvallis 69-27, along with a redeeming 27-17 Apple Cup win against Washington State to finish with eight wins for the first time since 2001.

BYU

The 2013 season got off to a confusing start for the Cougars as they sandwiched a 40-21 thrashing of No. 15 Texas with disappointing losses to Virginia and Utah to start 1-2.

BYU found more success in the middle of the season, as they then put together a five-game winning streak with the wins all coming against teams that finished the regular season with winning records. The stretch, which included wins over Middle Tennessee, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston and Boise State, pushed the Cougars to 6-2 and secured them bowl eligibility.

The season wound down with mixed results as BYU lost two games at Midwestern powers Wisconsin and Notre Dame and scored wins over Idaho State and Nevada to finish the season 8-4.

Coaching Matchup

The coaching matchup got a lot more interesting when Sarkisian bolted Washington for USC immediately after the regular season and the Huskies appointed quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo as interim coach for the game. One of the most legendary Husky quarterbacks in school history, Tuiasosopo has spent the past five seasons as an assistant in the Pac-12 and has no head coaching experience, but is regarded as having been one of the best in-game leaders to ever suit up for UW.

BYU brings a lot more stability to the coaching position, as head man Bronco Mendenhall finishes up his ninth year as the Cougars’ head coach and brings along a 6-2 bowl record with him, including four-straight postseason wins. Much like Washington’s new head coach, Chris Petersen, Mendenhall is a low-key, disciplined coach that regularly takes on the big boys of college football and wins despite not being in a BCS conference. Perhaps most importantly, BYU’s head man is also 2-0 against the Huskies.

Key players

Washington

Running back Bishop Sankey – The junior just finished second for the Doak Walker Award and is rewriting the Huskies’ record book at the running back position. A consistent back, Sankey is the kind of rusher that regularly has 30-35 carries in a game, sometimes even 40, gets the most out of every run and breaks a big play whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Quarterback Keith Price – Like Sankey, the third-year starter has made a major mark on the Washington record book and has been consistent throughout most of 2013. Price isn’t flashy, but efficient in spreading the ball around in Washington’s up-tempo offense and is once again playing through injuries. A banged-up knee has plagued Price in the second half of the season and could affect his final collegiate contest.

Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Arguably the nation’s most talented tight end, Seferian-Jenkins won the 2013 Mackey Award end and is a physical monster at 6 foot 6, 276 pounds. The massive target can be deadly in the red zone, especially in jump ball situations. He’s also an elite blocker on the edge at times, springing big runs for Sankey.

BYU

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy – Named an All-American by a number of publications, Van Noy is one of the nation’s most intimidating pass-rushers and a potential first round pick in 2014 due to his athleticism and ability to get into the backfield on a regular basis. Van Noy also has experience taking over bowl games. In the 2012 Poinsettia Bowl, his eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery, interception and two touchdowns essentially won the game for the Cougars.

Quarterback Taysom Hill – One of the best running quarterbacks in the nation, Hill put up more than 1,200 yards on the ground in 2013 and was named the Independent Offensive Player of the Year.

Wide receiver Cody Hoffman – The big 6’4”, 210 lbs. target has rewritten BYU’s receiving record book with his ability to be both a scary deep and red zone threat.

Stat pack

-Washington’s past four wins have been by an average of 32 points.

-Taysom Hill is the nation’s third-leading rusher at quarterback with 1,211 yards.

-Washington is 3-9 in bowl games since winning the Rose Bowl and the national championship in 1991.

Keys to the game

For Washington: Moving past the coaching change and focusing on the matter at hand.

“Now the focus narrows to the bowl game and our opponent. So they’re doing a great job. We’ve got to keep working,” Tuiasosopo told reporters last week. “These seniors have worked hard to bring our program to this level, back to where we’re winning football games. And they’re fired up to have one more football game to go get a ninth win.”

For BYU: Slowing Bishop Sankey and forcing Washington to pass on third down.

“For us to be effective in managing points we have to play well on first and second down, if we don’t our third down percentage goes up if it’s not third and long,” Mendenhall told BYUtv last week.

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