The BYU Cougars enter their ninth consecutive bowl game under head coach Bronco Mendenhall after narrowly escaping Nevada to close out the regular season Nov. 30.
BYU and Washington last played against each other in 2010, BYU’s final year in the Mountain West Conference, with BYU winning that game in Provo 23-17.
Both teams enter the season with identical 8-4 records. Washington’s losses were against Stanford, Oregon, Arizona State and UCLA. The first three losses the Huskies suffered were in three consecutive weeks in October. BYU’s four losses came against Virginia in the season opener, Utah, Wisconisn and Notre Dame.
BYU and Washington shared two opponents this season: Boise State and Idaho State. Washington defeated Boise 38-6, and BYU beat Boise 37-20. Washington destroyed Idaho State 56-0, and BYU also won big against Idaho State 59-13.
BYU is led by one of the top rushing attacks with quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season — the first time in BYU history that its had two 1,000 yard rushers. Hill led the team with 1,438 yards, and Williams followed that with 1,225 yards on the ground. Hill also passed for 2,645 yards with 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Williams scored seven rushing touchdowns, and Hill scored nine rushing touchdowns.
Washington has its own stout rushing attack led by running back Bishop Sankey. He has 1,775 yards rushing in 2013 with 18 touchdowns to go with the yards. Through the air the Huskies are led by quarterback Keith Price, who has 2,843 yards passing with 20 touchdown throws and five interceptions. Price missed the Oregon State game this season due to injury but will play in the bowl game against the Cougars. Price ended the season against Washington State with a stat line of 15-of-20 completions, 181 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“It’s a good school,” Williams said of Washington. “I watched them when they played Washington State, and they are a great team. They give effort every time they go out there. It will be a great test for us.”
One of the storylines from this bowl game is the absence of Washington’s recently-departed head coach, and former BYU quarterback, Steve Sarkisian. He took the head coaching job at USC, leaving the Huskies at the direction of Marques Tuiasosopo. Mendenhall said Washington is stellar no matter who is coaching it.
“They’re a good team, and I’m sure we can count on any kind of change,” Mendenhall said. “I think they are going to be at their best, and anything less than that will be a surprise. The four teams they have lost to are all top 20 teams. They score a lot of points, and they are hard to score on defensively. I’d say it’s a significant test. It’ll be the best bowl opponent and that’s fun. I like playing better opponents, and that signifies progress in a different kind of way.”
Williams said he and the other Cougars are feeling rested after the break, and they were able to get themselves prepared physically.
“It was a good break,” he said. “It was a good time to go away from football for just a little bit and get our mindset ready for the bowl game. The break was what we really needed to get our bodies healthy, and now we are ready to go.”
Mendenhall is 6-2 with BYU in bowl games, having lost in 2005 and 2008 to California and Arizona. Mendenhall said success in bowls comes down to wanting to have success.
“I attribute the success to emphasis,” he said. “You love to see your players have a great time and then have them be mature enough when it comes time to work that they switch gears. We’ve won six of eight, and my regret is that we haven’t won eight of eight, and I’ve made it clear that I want to win the game for the program and for [the players].”
The Fight Hunger Bowl takes place Friday at 7:30 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.