In the red zone, you have another defender, the back of the end zone. We need to execute at a high level to overcome it. They came at us hard when we got down there, credit their defense. —BYU quarterback Taysom Hill
SAN FRANCISCO — Washington scored touchdowns and BYU scored field goals.
That lifted the Huskies to a convincing 31-16 win over the Cougars Friday in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park.
It was a point chase and the Cougars could not overcome a season-long issue of failing to score touchdowns when they needed to.
The Cougars dominated Washington in statistics: 28 first downs to 19, 473 total yards to 319, etc., etc. But BYU's offense ran into some of the same old problems Friday night.
Those issues created a hurdle too tall for the Cougars to overcome in every significant football game outside of Texas and Georgia Tech in 2013.
Some Cougar faithful did a lot of handwringing over BYU using less than half of its NCAA-allowed practice time on the field leading up to this bowl game. But that was not the difference. It was comparative team speed and lack of protection to produce points out of Taysom Hill, Jamaal Williams and Cody Hoffman.
BYU could not get to the golden spots that produce big points. Washington could. We saw this in four previous losses to BCS opponents. Hill was tremendous — but not enough.
“Taysom led our team,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. “He played hard and physical and kept us in it.”
Impressive — but not enough.
The second big issue was BYU’s red zone impotence — settling for three field goals — a season-long issue for Robert Anae’s "go-fast, go-hard" scheme.
Hill ran like a gazelle. But he held onto the ball too long and he missed a lot of passes.
But the overlying issues were just two things.
Speed and protection.
Washington simply outran the Cougars in key situations. This included a pair of 11-yard Bishop Sankey touchdown runs in which he was basically untouched, and a Kraft Hunger Bowl record 100-yard kickoff return by John Ross. A 47-yard return by Jesse Callier set up another touchdown. We saw this when BYU played at Houston back in October.
It was an issue Washington held over BYU Friday inside AT&T Park. For a Cougar defense missing linebackers Spencer Hadley and Austen Jorgensen, this was a disparity 15 pre-bowl practices couldn't have masked.
Credit Washington and interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo. Mendenhall knew this coming in. He labeled Washington the best bowl team he’d faced as a head coach leading up to kickoff.
Kickoffs? Washington was Kickoffs R Us.
If you boil it down, the same issues that plagued the Cougars in losses this season were the same issues against Washington.
The Cougars gained a lot of yards — just like they did in losses to Utah, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Virginia — but could not produce enough points to help out their defense. In those losses, BYU managed 16, 13, 17 and 13 points, an average of 14.7 points.
Before Anae, Hill and Williams return with most of BYU's offensive line in 2014, fixing that scoring issue against BCS-type talent should be a 24-7 issue to be addressed.
Shake off the 14.7-point average, double it, and they’ve got something.
Mendenhall told reporters afterward that BYU made major progress this season in terms of work ethic, team unity and chemistry given that the schedule featured superior opponents than past years.
But it is clear BYU has a lot of work to do. Hill needs help up front.
Until then, the challenge of facing a team like Washington is a 40-60 percent proposition. BYU will need to get four or five turnovers to get the job done.
You saw the 40 percent unable to overcome the 60 percent in the Fight Hunger Bowl. BYU teams of old overcame the offensive challenge with schemes and execution, great pass blocking and accurate passers — not QB run plays that speedy defenders shut down after the second tier.
Taysom Hill, bless his heart, took the Cougars on his back. He ran his butt off. He made some nifty pass completions. He played inspired, tough football. But to truly win a game like this, he needed to throw touchdown passes.
“In the red zone, you have another defender, the back of the end zone,” said Hill. "We need to execute at a high level to overcome it. They came at us hard when we got down there. Credit their defense.”
In every BYU loss this season, teams really came at Hill with outstanding pressure. Friday was no different.
Hill’s running Friday night was amazing. But the Cougars turned into a one-trick pony and Washington never let him get loose for a killer jaunt because of chase speed. Hill had little time to throw. When he took off, UW defenders caught him within a few seconds. His longest run was 19 yards.
The sophomore ran 29 times.
Think about that.
A BYU quarterback taking 29 carries for 143 yards. He outgained the nation’s No. 3-ranked rusher in Sankey (21 for 96 yards).
Ty Detmer has to be scratching his head. He never had a Cody Hoffman.
BYU outgained Washington 471 to 316 total yards but lost by 15.
The Cougars scored just 16 points — all in the second quarter, nine of them on field goals. It fit right along with their 14.7 scoring average in previous losses.
And that’s the bottom line.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].