PROVO — In its 31-16 loss to Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl Friday night in San Francisco, BYU said goodbye to a couple of the best players in the history of the program — senior wide receiver Cody Hoffman and senior linebacker Kyle Van Noy.
Both Hoffman and Van Noy made big plays in a losing effort against the Huskies, as they did throughout their respective careers.
Meanwhile, the Cougar offense, finishing up its first season under a new scheme, showed, once again, that there’s plenty of room for improvement.
BYU scored 16 points against Washington — the same amount it scored in its season-opening loss at Virginia way back at the end of August. The Cougars, who finished with the same record (8-5) as they did in 2012, failed to score enough touchdowns against many of the best teams on their schedule.
Sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill rushed 29 times for 143 yards and a touchdown, and completed 25 of 48 passes for 288 yards and one interception against the Huskies. BYU outgained Washington, 473-319, but settled for three field goals.
Despite the offensive struggles, coach Bronco Mendenhall is eager to see what Hill and the rest of the offense can do next season.
“I’m optimistic about where we go from here. I’m not discouraged. I’m not worried,” Mendenhall said. “We’re launching from a really good place. I love Taysom’s leadership and I like the direction of the offense. Certainly, there are things to work on, but it’s not even close to the same team it was from a year ago. I think we all know that.”
BYU’s offense got off to a slow start Friday, but found a groove in the second quarter. The Cougars scored all 16 of their points in that quarter.
But in the second half, Washington made adjustments, focusing on stopping the run.
Hill knows what the focus will be during the offseason.
“First of all, guys load the box and we need to be able to throw the ball. As a quarterback, that’s what you want,” he said. “They came down in man pressure, pushed us out of bounds, and we missed a few opportunities that way. Not only that, if protection holds up a little longer, then we give guys on the outside and inside long enough to work the routes and get open. First of all, I would say that’s a big emphasis going into the offseason. My timing with receivers and adjusting to what the defense presents to us is another one I would say. Those are the things that are glaring to me right now.”
One of the bright spots for BYU’s offense was Hoffman, who caught 12 passes for 167 yards Friday night. He finished his career as the all-time leader in school history in receiving yards, receptions, touchdowns and 100-yard receiving games.
“He’s the all-time leading receiver in BYU history,” Mendenhall said. “You start thinking about Jim McMahon, Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Ty Detmer they had to throw it to somebody. The past four years, Cody has more catches than anyone in all BYU history. If you pause for a minute to reflect on that, that pretty much says it all.”
Hoffman suffered an injury on a gadget play late in the first half that saw him attempt a pass to Hill. Hoffman was leveled, and he remained on the turf for several minutes before walking off on his own power. Hoffman returned to the field in the second half, and nearly hauled down an acrobatic touchdown. He caught the pass, but was out of bounds.
During spring practices, the Cougars will have to find a way to fill the void of Hoffman’s absence.
“As a quarterback, Cody’s been the biggest security blanket for me to have,” Hill said. “If we do get one-on-one coverage out there with Cody, I had no hesitation to throw it to him. He usually comes down with it. I’ve loved playing with Cody. He’s been a good friend to me, and really fun to play with.”
When asked to recap his career, Hoffman said, “It’s been great. With Coach Mendenhall’s leadership keeping me in line, and just working hard in school, it’s been great. I’m definitely going to miss this experience. I don’t think it’s hit me yet (that his career is over). But I’ve had a great time.”
BYU’s special teams suffered a major breakdown in kick coverage in the Fight Hunger Bowl. The Huskies gained 168 yards on three kickoff returns, including a 100-yard touchdown return in the second quarter.
Mendenhall said it’s something he will examine during the offseason.
“When there are multiple mistakes in the same area,” he said, “it deserves a closer look.”
Van Noy’s signature play against Washington came late in the first quarter when the Huskies had fourth-and-1 at the Cougar 3-yard line. Van Noy burst into the backfield and tackled running back Bishop Sankey for a 9-yard loss.
“Kyle made a lot of plays tonight. He played hard and he played physical,” Mendenhall said afterward. “I think I’ve been with Kyle long enough where you sometimes take him for granted, that he makes all these plays. I think his career has been summarized pretty much, when critical plays need to be made, he just kind of makes them. That’s hard to do. We’ll miss him.”
Despite BYU’s five-loss season, and its first bowl defeat since a setback to Arizona in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, Van Noy said the program progressed in 2013.
“We made another jump,” Van Noy said. “Many people don’t think that, but on the inside, for BYU, we made a jump.”
How far forward can the Cougars jump next year? The process of determining that will begin next Aug. 28 in East Hartford, Conn., when BYU visits UConn in the 2014 season opener.
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