As 2013 comes to a close, BYU has one last opponent before seniors such as Kyle Van Noy and Cody Hoffman say farewell to the program. And once again, BYU has to face a big-name team from a big-time conference: Washington of the Pac-12.
While Washington will be under an interim head coach, the Huskies are a dangerous opponent on offense, defense and special teams. Here's everything you need to know about Washington as the Cougars gear up for the Fight Hunger Bowl.
Lafe Peavler is a sportswriter intern at the Deseret News.
Washington quarterback Keith Price is more than capable of putting up big numbers. For example, he went toe-to-toe with Robert Griffin III in the 2011 Alamo Bowl as he had 438 yards and four touchdowns passing. Granted, Baylor's defense wasn't the greatest, but Price is dangerous when he gets rolling.
Price is a senior, and this is his final shot to impress NFL scouts. He's had a solid season with 2,843 yards passing, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions, but he hasn't set himself apart from the other star quarterbacks leaving for the NFL. If ever he needed a performance like he had against the Bears, it's now.
But Price is far from the only threat. Junior running back Bishop Sankey has 1,775 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. His rushing yards total puts him third in the FBS.
In short, the Huskies have a balanced, physical attack that will test the BYU defense to its core.
Washington's defense knows it will be a challenge to stop Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams, but it's not like this defense hasn't seen the hurry-up offense before. Several Pac-12 teams, including powerhouse Oregon, use schemes and a tempo similar to what Robert Anae has installed at BYU.
The Huskies have talented players on defense, including senior LB Sean Parker. Parker has 60 tackles, four interceptions and a sack.
But one player the BYU offensive line will have to be particularly wary of is DE Hau’oli Kikaha. The junior has 10.0 sacks and 62 tackles on the season.
Overall, the Huskies are No. 34 in scoring defense (23.4 points per game) and No. 49 in total defense (381.5 yards/game), according to the NCAA. This isn't the toughest defense BYU has played this year, but the Huskies are no slouches, either.
Travis Coons handles kicking and punting duties for Washington, and he's reliable. He's made 14 of his 15 field goal attempts, with the lone miss a 48-yard kick that UCLA blocked. His season long is from 46 yards out. He's also a decent punter with an average of 40.7 yards per punt.
BYU can't count on Coons to just miss key field goal attempts. The Cougars will need to keep Washington out of field goal range or Coons will make them pay.
Former head coach Steve Sarkisian is gone to USC, and incoming head coach Chris Petersen won't be coaching in the bowl game. So the man who will lead the Huskies against the Cougars is quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo. He was a quarterback at Washington and he's relatively inexperienced, as he's only been coaching since 2009.
We've already seen two teams play this bowl season with interim head coaches. USC dominated Fresno State 45-20, while Boise State fell 38-23 to Oregon State. Will the Huskies react more like the Trojans or the Broncos? That will be a major factor in this matchup.
The pressure will be on Tuiasosopo to motivate his team and manage the game without letting his inexperience as a head coach get in the way. Still, Bronco Mendenhall and the Cougars would do well not to underestimate Tuiasosopo and Washington in this game.
BYU's played a long list of solid teams from automatic-qualifing conferences, and Washington is no exception. It will test the Cougars with its balanced offense, dangerous defense and reliable special teams. This will certainly be no cakewalk.
The one big question mark is how this team will do under an interim head coach. Will it be ready to play under Tuiasosopo, or will it fall flat? BYU better be prepared for the former, because senior stars like Price know that they need to impress NFL scouts in this game.
While the challenge of beating Washington isn't insurmountable, it will be a tall order for the Cougars to end 2013 with a win over the Huskies.