UW Football | After Oregon's spread option, now it's BYU's short game
In the second game of his return to college football, Ed Donatell and the Huskies today face a Brigham Young offense predicated on a short-passing game and power running, an approach that couldn't be much more opposed to the spread-option offense Washington encountered last week at Oregon.
Seattle Times staff reporter
What to expect: Huskies figure to come out with more fire emotionally and a larger playbook than last week in Eugene. Washington is likely to try to get more of its faster young players in positions to take advantage of their speed against a BYU defense returning just three starters. Huskies will again try to get their running game going, hoping for a better performance from their veteran offensive line. Cougars have 10 returning starters on offense, led by QB Max Hall, and will test the young Huskies with their methodical possession passing game and punishing runner Harvey Unga.
Notes: BYU has an 11-game winning streak, the longest in the nation. Its last loss was at Tulsa last Sept. 15, 55-47. ... UW holds a 4-2 edge in the series, and is 3-0 in Seattle. BYU won the last meeting, a 35-28 victory in Provo in 1999 in what was the first game as Huskies coach for Rick Neuheisel. ... BYU is coming off a 41-17 win over Northern Iowa last week. ... UW is 17-8 against teams that currently make up the Mountain West Conference. ... UW played eight true freshmen last week, one more than it played all of last season. ... BYU is 3-2 against the Pac-10 the past two years, beating Oregon, UCLA and Arizona and losing to UCLA and Arizona. ... This is the first of a four-game series between the teams. UW will play in Provo in 2010 and 2012, and BYU will return to Seattle in 2011.
Injuries: UW — S Jason Wells (knee), OT Mark Armelin (foot), CB Byron Davenport (ankle) out; RB Brandon Johnson (leg) questionable; TE Michael Gottlieb (hamstring) probable. BYU — S Andrew Rich (hand) probable.
Prediction: This looms as a critical game for the UW program, and it's hard to imagine that the Huskies won't give a better effort than last week. Huskies also figure to match up better with the Cougars athletically and schematically than they did the Ducks, and the home-field advantage and a game of experience for all the young players should help. Still, BYU is an experienced, veteran group bent on getting its first nonconference road win since 2002. Cougars in a shootout, 38-34.
Noon at Husky Stadium, Seattle
TV: FSN Radio: KJR-AM 950
The line: BYU by 9 points
This is the kind of thing Washington's first-year defensive coordinator Ed Donatell never really had to deal with while coaching the last 17 years in the NFL.
The basics of many NFL offenses are the same, the differences often subtle.
But in the second game of his return to college football, Donatell and the Huskies today face a Brigham Young offense predicated on a short-passing game and power running, an approach that couldn't be much more opposed to the spread-option offense Washington encountered last week at Oregon.
Kickoff against BYU is noon at Husky Stadium.
"These two offenses, they are really night and day," Donatell said earlier this week. "It's one of the neat things about college football, the challenge of shifting gears. If you like challenges, it's great stuff."
That's not the only challenge facing the Huskies today.
There's also the task to avoid getting distracted by increasing rumblings surrounding the future of head coach Tyrone Willingham, now 11-26 in his fourth year at UW.
Following last week's 44-10 demolition at the hands of the Ducks, and with Oklahoma on tap next week, many are pegging this game as a must-win for Willingham to survive.
Willingham, asked this week about the rising fan discontent, said, "I am aware of it and I am as disappointed as they are and our whole football team is."
Otherwise, the coach tried to steer clear of the conjecture, while players mostly looked at more personal implications. Fifteen true or redshirt freshmen will be playing their first game at Husky Stadium.
"I'm more excited than nervous," said tight end Kavario Middleton. "Anxious, eager to get out there and redeem ourselves for last week."
The offense was as much to blame for what happened last week as the much-maligned defense, getting shut out and gaining just 109 yards after halftime.
Washington coaches, however, talked this week of opening up the playbook more now that the players are at home in more comfortable surroundings and have a game under their belts.
Feeling the most heat is the veteran offensive line, which couldn't mount a consistent push to lead much of a running attack last week, causing the offense to fall apart. The Huskies are confident of more success in that area this week against a BYU defense replacing eight starters from last year.
That's assuming UW can score move the ball a little better. Then the key will be whether Donatell and the Huskies' defense can do anything to slow the high-flying BYU offense.
The Cougars' offense returns 10 starters, led by junior quarterback Max Hall, who is adept at taking what the defense gives him. Last week, when Northern Iowa concentrated on the team's outside receivers, he simply dumped the ball off 15 times to the team's tight ends, 11 to junior Dennis Pitta.
"This looks a little more like pro-style," Donatell said. "The problem is they look too much like a pro team the way they play. They are very efficient, and obviously they have a system."
That system has carried BYU to 11 straight wins, the longest current streak in the nation. The Cougars, however, stumbled early on the road each of the last two years — last year at UCLA and Tulsa, and the year before at Arizona and Boston College.
Now in their fourth year under coach Bronco Mendenhall, the team has tabbed this year as the "Quest for Perfection" hoping that an undefeated record will allow it to get into the BCS. But first, it must win a nonconference road game, something it hasn't done since 2002.
"I think I've learned as a head coach and I think our program has matured," Mendenhall said this week. "I'm not sure that one setting, early on the road, can be a predictor of a flaw in the program. But we've looked at every possible way to address it, and I think our play will show that."
Many Brigham Young fans recall how the 1996 team saw its national-title hopes derailed in Seattle, losing at UW 29-17 in September, the lone setback in a 14-1 season.
That was back when there was perceived to be a basic difference in the quality of teams from the Pac-10 and what was then the -Western Athletic Conference. (BYU and many others of that league are now in the Mountain West Conference.)
But Willingham, 1-1 against BYU while at Notre Dame, says he's not sure some of those perceived differences exist anymore.
"What's most deceiving is their overall team speed," he said. "You kind of thought of them as not being one of those teams that ran well or played very quick. But that's quite contrary. They move around very well, they are quick, they are explosive, and they are very aggressive as a football team."
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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UPDATE - 10:18 PM
Washington State's Klay Thompson will play Thursday against Huskies
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