SEATTLE Today's showdown at Husky Stadium features two teams desperately looking for a win for disparate reasons.
No. 15 BYU hasn't won a non-conference road game outside the state of Utah in nearly seven years and is hoping to extend its nation-best 11-game winning streak. The Cougars are aiming at big goals an undefeated season and a Bowl Championship Series bid. A loss would be a devastating setback; a win would be a significant milestone for a program striving to return to national prominence.
"We've got to be focused," said BYU defensive lineman Jan Jorgensen. "We can't let the big stadium or anything like that play in our minds. It's just another business trip and we have to take care of business."
Washington, a proud program fallen on hard times, is coming off a 44-10 blowout loss at Oregon. The Huskies' embattled coach, Tyrone Willingham, has endured three straight losing seasons and is hoping to salvage a campaign off to a dismal start. A loss would put Willingham one step closer to losing his job; a win would breathe some life into a team on the verge of flat-lining.
"We want to have the attitude that no matter how heavy the odds are stacked against us, we can still have success," said Washington offensive line coach Mike Denbrock. "We're going to keep pushing that point home."
On paper, BYU should win handily. But history suggests it might not be easy.
The Cougars have been inundated with questions this week about their long-standing road losing streak, and it's something they want to halt today.
"It's important to get the first non-conference victory we've had in awhile. It's more important for our team to keep winning ball games and to keep playing the way we know we can," said quarterback Max Hall.
"It's important, but we're trying not to make it too much of a big deal. It's another game for us and a game we need to win. It's a totally new season. It's a different team. Different expectations, everything. We're just focusing on what we're doing now. We're not going to let what happened in the past bug us or haunt us at all. We're looking forward to this season and things we can do right now."
Coach Bronco Mendenhall acknowledged that beating a non-conference opponent especially a Pac-10 foe on the road is the next hurdle for his program, and it's something he has addressed with his players.
"Our program is gaining confidence year by year though consistency," he said.
Last season, the Cougars fell to UCLA at the Rose Bowl, then lost a shootout at Tulsa the following week. Those two defeats were the only blemishes on what turned out to be an 11-2 campaign.
Still, Mendenhall is trying not to make too much of this game.
"If we don't play well, all won't be lost as it has been the past couple of years when we won 10 straight. I'll learn another valuable lesson and hopefully apply it," he said.
"I'm trying not to put too much emphasis other than very few things we've had issues with that have not been correctable and addressed and then we move forward. This is one of the few remaining areas that I think we have some work to do. Our program is more prepared and the team is more prepared. The outcome? We'll see after we play."
Washington struggled in every phase of the game against Oregon. The Huskies gained only 242 yards of total offense (they gained just 2.2 yards per carry). Quarterback Jake Locker rushed 16 times for 57 yards, and his offensive line struggled protecting him. He completed 12-of-28 passes for 103 yards.
"We didn't block well, we didn't throw well, we didn't catch as well as we'd like to," Willingham said. "But if you think back one year ago, our offense was very productive. It averaged about 30 points per game we were second in the Pac-10 in rushing."
One of the keys for BYU is slowing down the quick, athletic Locker. "For us to win," Jorgensen said, "we have to be able to corral him."Offensively, the Cougars know they need to protect Hall and avoid turnovers. BYU lost four fumbles in last week's 41-17 win over Northern Iowa.
BYU on the road
No. 15 BYU (1-0) at
Today, 1 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Net
Radio: 1160AM, 102.7FM
E-mail: [email protected]