BYU-Washington: The Definitive Preview

RBCCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2008

You won't find much better than this. :-)


Why BYU will win

Washington started 24 true or redshirt freshmen in its opener against Oregon and got blasted 44-10.  That’s not even mentioning that Oregon was using its third-string quarterback.

Oregon is a ranked opponent and has a powerful offense, almost no matter who is running it.  But BYU is ranked higher than Oregon and has an even more powerful offense.

Cougar quarterback Max Hall threw for nearly 500 yards against Northern Iowa last Saturday, and tight end Dennis Pitta had over 200 receiving yards.  BYU has arguably one of the most balanced offensive attacks in all of college football.

After the UCLA and Tulsa debacles from last year, and the Arizona and Boston College debacles from two years ago, BYU is hungry for a win against a BCS school on the road.  If Washington had problems stopping Oregon, trying to stop BYU won’t be any easier.

It would be shocking if BYU was held under 35 in this contest.  Can the Huskies REALLY keep up?


Why Washington will win

BYU hasn’t won a non-conference game on the road since edging Utah State by a single point in 2002.  That’s nine straight losses for BYU against non-conference opponents on the road.  Since 2000, the Cougars are just 4-14 on the road against non-conference opponents.

BYU has also never won at Washington in three tries.  The Cougars could have gone perfect in 1996, but lo and behold, their lone loss that season got Washington.

History aside though, because it really doesn’t mean a lot, Washington offensive coordinator Tim Lappano vows to open the playbook up a lot more this week to help Jake Locker.

Part of the problem against Oregon last Saturday was that the Huskies were determined to run the football, even though the Ducks were stacking the box with eight and sometimes even nine men.  They challenged Locker to beat them with his arm, and their plan worked.

But Lappano seemed to agree he should have made better halftime adjustments and run the ball a little less.  Don’t expect the Huskies to run so much on Saturday—unless it’s Locker.

BYU’s defense was hardly tested at all last week against Northern Iowa.  Expect Washington to test the Cougars’ inexperienced defense...a lot.

I'm sure the Cougars remember vividly Northern Iowa's quarterback sprinting down the sideline for 69 yards in the first quarter last Saturday.  I said this before: That was a designed run that BYU just wasn't prepared for.  You can't prepare for someone like Locker, who Bronco Mendenhall admitted is faster than every player on his team.

If this game turns into a barnburner, like many speculate it will, can BYU really keep its poise in a hostile environment thirsty for any sort of win?



I’ve already mentioned BYU’s desire to win this game in order to prove it can beat a semi-respectable out-of-conference opponent on the road.  Utah proved its validity last week in Ann Arbor, and don’t think for a second that the BYU players and coaches are letting that go.

How horrible would it be if Utah could go into Ann Arbor and beat Michigan, but BYU couldn’t even go into Washington during a down year and take out the Huskies?  Especially with all this “Quest for Perfection” crap the Cougars are spewing.  Oh, but it’s just about achieving personal perfection.  Right.

How about the importance of this victory for the Huskies?  The difficulty of the Pac-10 schedule is undeniable.  With road games against Oregon, USC, California, and Arizona, as well as home dates against UCLA and Arizona State, it would almost be a miracle if the Huskies could get as many as four wins in conference play.

It would be even more amazing, considering they haven’t won four games in conference during any of Tyrone Willingham’s three years as coach.

The Huskies have a better than average chance in their home game against Notre Dame later this season.  If they can defeat BYU, this game might turn out to be what gives them the elusive sixth win to be bowl eligible—something else they haven’t been yet under Willingham.  How much do you think a bunch of freshmen want to be able to say they turned the University of Washington football program back into a bowl team?

Speaking of Willingham, this game could very much be his job on the line.  If Washington loses to BYU and then loses to Oklahoma (which almost certainly will happen), that’s an 0-3 start.  Willingham doesn’t make the schedule, but unfortunately he’s the one ultimately responsible for the results.

How much do you think he wants to win this game, if nothing else to avert the "hot seat" question for one more week?


What do I think will happen?

Washington may be able to keep up for a while, but in the end, the defense is going to be what loses the game.  This is a defense that allowed more points last year than they did in Willingham’s first season (2005).  Maybe I’m wrong here, but isn’t improvement a critical mark of success?

Here’s another little fact to consider.  Last season, Washington was tied or within a touchdown at halftime in nine of its 13 games—yet they finished with just four wins.

In the first half, they outscored opponents by an average of 16.69 to 14.38.  But in the second half, the Huskies were outscored by an average of 17.23 to 12.54.

Check out these games.

Ohio State

Halftime: UW led 7-3.  Final: OSU wins 33-14 (Huskies outscored 30-7 in second half).


Halftime: Tied 10-10.  Final: UCLA wins 44-31 (Huskies outscored 34-21 in second half).

At Arizona State

Halftime: UW led 17-13.  Final: ASU wins 44-20 (Huskies outscored 31-3 in second half).


Halftime: UW led 28-23.  Final: UA wins 48-41 (Huskies outscored 25-13 in second half).

At Hawaii

Halftime: UW led 28-21. Final: UH wins 35-28 (Huskies outscored 14-0 in second half).

Here are a few more interesting games.


Halftime: UO led 24-17.  Final: UO wins 55-34 (Huskies outscored 31-17 in second half).

Washington State

Halftime: WSU led 21-20.  Final: WSU wins 42-35 (Huskies outscored 21-15 in second half).

This team, for whatever reason, doesn’t have the ability to keep up.  It’s like watching a car that’s running on empty.  It has this ability to go for a while—sometimes a little bit longer than you expect (see Ohio State and Arizona State)—but in the end, it’s going to die.  When that moment happens, the results are embarrassing and horrifying.

Right now, the Huskies start every game on E, and it’s just a matter of time after the opening kickoff before they run flat out of gas and everybody just blows right past them.

The only way Washington wins this game—I repeat, the ONLY way—is if it gets out to an early lead.  That’s what happened against Boise State last season, and it’s the only reason the Huskies won.  They jumped ahead 14-0 in the first quarter, and it was pretty much over.

If Washington wants to win this game, it needs a similar start against BYU.  The Huskies cannot expect BYU to jump ahead 7-0, 10-3, 17-7, whatever, and then hope to be able to come back.  They also can’t expect to allow BYU to hang around and then pull it out in the end.  It’s just not going to happen.

Blow the Cougars out in the first half.  Get ahead by two or three touchdowns.  Force BYU to doubt a little bit.  Create some uncertainty, and it may just end up being the difference.

But I don’t foresee that happening.  BYU is going to be in this game the whole way through, just because Washington won’t be able to make consistent stops on defense.  Even if Washington scores, BYU will answer.  Then, maybe halfway through the fourth quarter, Willingham’s crew is gonna sputter...and stop.

Originally, I picked 30-27 BYU as my final for this game.  I think I’m going to revise that a bit: BYU wins 37-27.  Trailing 27-23 midway through the fourth quarter, BYU engineers two late touchdown drives to put away the Huskies and move to 2-0.


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