PROVO — Now that BYU’s regular season is over, the Cougars can rest.
And after defeating Nevada, 28-23, in a hard-fought game last Saturday, BYU will take all the rest it can get, considering it's been beset by a spate of injuries in recent weeks.
“Right now, we’ve got to get our team healed up and get as many guys healthy as we can,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall.
BYU (8-4) faces the No. 6 selection from the Pac-12 in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on Dec. 27. The Cougars have won four consecutive bowl games.
Senior wide receiver JD Falslev, who missed part of Saturday’s game when he felt pain in his broken hand but came back to catch a fourth-quarter touchdown pass, is looking forward to some time off.
“Yeah, but at the same time, we have one game left and we’re going to prepare like heck for it because we want to finish on top; we want to finish well," Falslev said. "We have a bowl game streak that we know is there. It’s our last game for some of us dudes, and me. You never know if you’ll strap on the pads after this game, so we’ll prepare well. We’re excited for a little break to give our bodies a break. But at the same time, we have to prepare very well.”
Many are projecting Washington (8-4), which is coming off a 27-17 victory last Friday over archrival Washington State, to be the Cougars’ opponent in the bowl game.
Other possible foes include Arizona (7-5), Washington State (6-6) or Oregon State (6-6).
Mendenhall said he doesn’t have a preference regarding which opponent BYU meets in the bowl game.
“Whoever it is, I know it will be a good team to play against,” said running back Jamaal Williams, who rushed for a career-high 219 yards on 15 carries (14.6 yards per carry) and a touchdown against the Wolf Pack. “We’re going to have to be at our best and come out aggressive and execute. If we come out the way we did in this first half, it’s gonna get real messy.”
Yes, the Cougars started flat against Nevada and were held scoreless in the first half before exploding for 28 second-half points.
Quarterback Taysom Hill completed 14 of 18 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran 26 times for 154 yards and a TD. As a team, BYU rushed for 394 yards.
“Once we got in our groove, and we were in our zone, no one could stop us,” Williams said.
Still, the Cougars lacked discipline for much of the game, evidenced by their 14 penalties for 142 yards.
“We made a ton of mistakes in penalties. It seemed like when we made them, they were in critical situations,” Mendenhall said. “Our lack of playing clean made it harder to win. It was hard to gain momentum and separate. So the game came right down to the end.”
With the win, the Cougars avoided three losses in their final four games. Mendenhall praised his team for reaching the eight-win plateau.
“Eight wins are hard to get,” Mendenhall said. “I don’t care who you are playing or what situation.”
How will BYU approach the next few weeks before the bowl game?
The Cougars will hold a team meeting Monday, Mendenhall said, “then we’ll start lifting and conditioning every other day up until something like Dec. 18 or 19, when we’ll start our bowl practices. A unique challenge coming up as well is we have finals coming up during the bowl preparation. I care a lot about their schoolwork, so it’s the next challenge. Then it’s over Christmas. Those things we’ll manage, but I’m looking forward to (the bowl game).”
Against Nevada, defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna (shoulder sprain) and cornerback Robertson Daniel (neck sprain) didn’t finish the game due to injuries. Cornerback Skye PoVey re-injured his foot in practice last week and is done for the season. Linebacker Spencer Hadley missed his third consecutive game with a knee injury.
Meanwhile, freshman Michael Davis made his first career start at cornerback last Saturday.
“We’ve had some significant injuries, especially on the defensive side with Eathyn and Rob,” said safety Daniel Sorensen. “It will be good to get them healed up.”
Senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who was the star of BYU’s Poinsettia Bowl victory last season, is just glad to have one more chance to wear his Cougar uniform.
“Honestly, I don’t care (who BYU plays),” Van Noy said. “I’m just happy to be going to a bowl game.”
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company