Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SAN FRANCISCO — Bowl games can be viewed as an opportunity to validate a season, as well as a springboard for the following season.
Coming off an uneven performance in the regular-season finale at Nevada, BYU is looking for both validation and momentum when it faces Washington Friday (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPN) in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.
“You don’t want to end a season with a bitter taste in your mouth,” said quarterback Taysom Hill. “That happened a little bit at Nevada. We came out in the first half and kind of laid an egg. The second half was a lot better. Look, I’m not happy with the way we played in that game. I’m antsy to practice to get better and move on and play Washington. We’re going to leave it all out there.”
The Cougars suffered close setbacks this season to Virginia, Utah, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. A win in the Fight Hunger Bowl would ease some of the pain of those defeats.
“We’ve had a couple of disappointing losses this year,” Hill said. “But we’ve been in every football game. We’ve had chances to win every game. This will give us another opportunity to play a very quality opponent in Washington. They’re a great football team. I’m really antsy to go out and win this football game, to prove that we can win close games against a quality opponent.”
The way BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall sees it, the outcome of Friday’s game won’t completely determine how he assesses the year overall.
“I’m already calling the season a success. I’ve categorized it as, it’s been a good season — 8-4 is a good season,” he said. “It’s hard to win eight games and go to another bowl game Six of our wins were against bowl teams. So it’s difficult. I always like to end on a winning note.”
The Cougars are riding a school-record four-game bowl winning streak.
“After my very first bowl (against Cal in 2005), I knew right then that wasn’t the feeling I wanted to finish the season,” Mendenhall said. “Nine wins would be a very good season. I think the program made progress this year, regardless of the outcome of this game. Offensively, we established a new identity, played harder and united a team. Productivity-wise, we were much better. This is another chance to play another really good team. It’s not on the road, but a neutral site, which is the next-best thing to getting a significant road victory. Through independence, the better teams that we play most of those are on the road. This will be a great mark if we’re able to win this one.”
And a victory should establish the tone for BYU heading into the 2014 season.
“Absolutely. It will set the stage for our offseason,” Hill said. “A win here would be really big and give us a lot of momentum going into the offseason and looking forward to 2014, it would give us momentum going into our opener as we see the quality of team we played in Washington.”
Said wide receiver and team captain JD Falslev: “It’s our chance to play another game that not everybody gets. If we can play well, it would mean a lot to us. To play against a great opponent means a lot to us as well. It’s a great chance for the young guys to really kick-start next year. And it’s a good chance for the seniors to go out on top.”
For BYU to defeat Washington, it will have to turn in a strong defensive performance.
For starters, Huskies running back Bishop Sankey has run for 1,775 yards this season and is expected to be an NFL draft pick next spring.
Asked about the keys to the game, Mendenhall listed playing “great run defense. We have to be gap sound and assignment sound.” He added that the Cougars will need to contain wide receiver Jaydon Mickens and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
“Overarching that is containment of the quarterback (senior Keith Price),” Mendenhall said.
“He’s a good quarterback. He’s a dual threat,” said safety Daniel Sorensen of Price. “He throws the ball downfield to some good receivers and he can scramble out of the pocket. There’s a lot of pressure on us to keep him contained in the pocket.”
“We know they have a lot of good weapons on offense,” linebacker Alani Fua said. “They’re a good team. We’re going to have to stop their star players, and one of them is their running back, and their tight end and an outside receiver.”
The Cougars say they look forward to the test that a Pac-12 team like Washington presents.
“They’ve played some tough teams and have had some tough losses,” Sorensen said. “They’re better than their record shows. They are very good on offense and have some really dynamic players. It will be a great challenge for us. I think Washington’s a great opponent for us to play in the bowl game. We’ll be ready.”
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