BYU’s rough night at AT&T Park a microcosm of the challenges facing the school as a big-time independent

BYU-UW

By Morris Phillips

A step slow, a play short: it was a pattern that played out to BYU’s detriment throughout the Fight Hunger Bowl Friday night.   While the Cougars acquitted themselves well, riding the spirit and running of quarterback Taysom Hill, when it came time to make a critical play, the Cougars didn’t while Washington did.

In the first half alone, the Cougars amassed 297 yards in offense, but never led.  Four offensive trips inside the UW 30-yard line produced three field goals and one touchdown on the initial push.  In the second half, a big interception had BYU poised to get back in it, but an incomplete pass and a sack preceded Justin Sorenson’s 44-yard missed field goal.

ESPN commentator Dave Pasch called BYU’s offense in the first half that enjoyed huge advantage in plays and yardage “dominant.”  In truth, the Hill-led attack was relevant, but ultimately ineffective.

“That to me was two even matched teams,” an upbeat BYU coach Bronco Mendehall recounted.  “I thought we had time of possession.  I thought we had ball control, et cetera.  We weren’t able to put it into the end zone, maybe on a couple of occasions.”

“When we get down there, we have to execute at a really high level, and we didn’t do that.  We had a couple of penalties that really killed us.”

And special teams were clearly no help.  After the Cougars drove 88 yards in 12 plays—including a gutsy fourth down run and conversion out of punt formation at their own 20—to tie it, 7-7, Washington got a 100-yard kickoff return from ultra speedy John Ross that put BYU behind once again.  After the Cougars narrowed the gap to 14-13, Jessie Callier’s 47-yard kickoff return set up the Huskies for another touchdown.

The BYU offense that moved the ball so effectively in the first half, bogged down after halftime.  Hill’s favored slant route to receivers Cody Hoffman and Skyler Ridley was effectively taken away by the Huskies crowding the box.  While Hill continued to find running holes—he would amass a career-high 31 rush attempts—UW dared the athletic quarterback to throw, and more often than not, Hill couldn’t connect.

The Cougars offense that amassed all the yardage in the first half went without a major push into Washington territory after halftime.  Washington’s touchdown on the initial drive of the half effectively put the game away.

Even more humbling for BYU were the marquee individual matchups that left many of BYU stars humbled.  All-American linebacker Kyle Van Noy played well in his final game as a Cougar, but when UW back Bishop Sankey was in his sights at the 11-yard line in the second quarter, Van Noy was left grasping for air as Sankey sidestepped the Cougar and then raced into the end zone for a 21-13 Washington lead.

In the third quarter stand out linebacker Uani Unga was matched up with UW’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins near the goal line, but the massive 6’6”, 280-pound tight end had the clear size and reach advantage when quarterback Keith Price whizzed a pass to Seferian-Jenkins in the end zone that put UW up 28-16 and left Unga an arm’s length short.

Hoffman, an NFL prospect at wide receiver, made plays in the middle of field, hauling in 12 catches for 167 yards, but his turn as passer didn’t fare well.  Hoffman received a pitch and threw a short out to Hill, but Hoffman took a shot to the ribs as he threw and was limited for the entire second half.

In all, a tough night for the Cougars, but also a reminder of what challenges life as a big-time independent will entail.  BYU left the Mountain West conference after 2012 for greater television exposure and the opportunity to play a national schedule and better pursue an opportunity at an elusive national championship.

But while a hand-picked schedule may garner exposure, the Cougars will have to recruit the best players to compete at such a lofty level.  On Friday night, the best athletes on the field wore purple and gold. A humbling loss to a middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 team in Washington could not provide a better illustration of the Cougars’ conundrum: the Cougars need to win big to gain national acclaim, but those wins will clearly be more difficult to grasp outside the Mountain West and squarely on top of the national stage.

Cal allows to many big plays in 41-17 loss to Washington

By Morris Phillips

The Cal Bears ran 89 offensive plays, amassed nearly 500 yards in total offense and committed just three penalties and one turnover on Saturday night.

But the Bears were blown out, dropping a 41-17 decision to Washington and falling to 1-7 on the season, in which they lost each time by at least two touchdowns.

How’s that?

While the Bears continue to post respectable offensive numbers, their defense has been simply offensive, allowing 643 yards to the Huskies, including UW running back Bishop Sankey’s 241 yards rushing.

Sankey’s 59-yard touchdown run capped a lopsided first half that ended with Cal trailing 24-7.   The Bears fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter when their offense pushed the snooze button and went three-and-out on four of their first six possessions.

“Right now, we’re just not executing well enough on either side of the ball that we need to beat a good football team,” Coach Sonny Dykes said.  “Washington is a very good football team.  We just have to go back to work.”

The Bears continue to deal with numerous injuries and defections, especially in the back seven of their defense, where the team allowed numerous big plays on Saturday.  Besides Sankey’s big touchdown run before the half, the Bears allowed UW quarterback Keith Price and Jaydon Mickens to hook up on touchdown passes of 68 and 47 yards, the second of which put the Huskies up 31-7 two minutes into the second half.

Washington came into Saturday’s game off three straight losses to the Pac-12 elite and with numerous injury concerns of their own.  The team also paid tribute to long time coach, Don James, who passed away this week due to complications with pancreatic cancer at the age of 80.  The emotion surrounding the loss of James appeared to propel the Huskies, especially in building their early lead.

Jared Goff got the start for Cal and completed 32 of 54 passes for 336 yards and one touchdown pass to Chris Harper. Goff played into the fourth quarter and third-stringer Austin Hinder finished up.   Goff put up decent numbers, but was sacked five times and couldn’t get the Bears in the end zone, especially critical after the Bears narrowed Washington’s lead to 10 early in the second quarter.

The Bears have dropped 11 straight games to FBS competition and haven’t beaten a Pac-12 opponent in over a year.  In addition, the Bears got bad news this week when reports surfaced regarding the team’s poor performance in the classroom.   While athletic director Sandy Barbour addressed the academic issues, taking the blame for the player’s deficiencies, Dykes had to answer for the team’s play on the field.

“We’re not about losing or moral victories, but our guys play hard.  We have really good kids with great character.  I’m proud of them from that standpoint.  We just have to get better,” Dykes said.

The Bears return to Berkeley next Saturday to face Arizona, who won 44-20 at Colorado on Saturday.

Stanford outlasts Huskies to go 5-0

By Jeremy Harness

STANFORD – Head coach David Shaw said that what he likes most about his team is the mental toughness that it has, that “of all the things you can ask for as a coach, that’s what you want.”

That’s what got Stanford through in the fourth quarter, as No. 15 Washington put the pressure on time and again in the fourth quarter while it gripped tightly to a three-point lead.

Although Stanford never trailed in the game, it wasn’t really over until the Keith Price’s would-be first-down pass to Kevin Smith on fourth down was ruled incomplete with 1:15 remaining, allowing the Cardinal to run out the clock and avenge their only loss last year in Pac-12 play, coming away with a 31-28 win Saturday night at Stanford Stadium, marking the third time since World War II that Stanford has started the season with a 5-0 record.

Getting stops against Price was by no means easy, especially Saturday night. The dual-threat quarterback torched Stanford for 350 yards by completing 33 of his 48 throws, and even though the Cardinal sacked him five times, there were plenty other opportunities.

“We were trying to keep him in the pocket, but he kept high-stepping (out of trouble),” Trent Murphy said. “But we just couldn’t put him down.”

If anyone had a turnaround game from last year’s humbling loss to the Huskies, it was Ty Montgomery, who had a less-than-glorious performance in Seattle. This time around, he sliced the Huskies up for 290 all-purpose yards, including taking the opening kickoff 99 yards to give Stanford a lightning-quick 7-0 lead as well as a touchdown catch with 10 seconds left in the first half.

“(Also,) when he wasn’t carrying the ball, he was blocking his tail off,” Shaw said. “I would say that Ty was the difference in the ballgame. He’s a special player that we think his future is extremely bright, and he’s only going to get better.”

After that opening kickoff, the rest of the first quarter was a real struggle between two of the top defenses in the nation. The Huskies got as far as the Stanford 44 before they were forced to punt the ball away and were not able to get into any sort of rhythm on offense, a far cry from what they’ve been accustomed to this year.

Stanford’s offense, on the other hand, fared a tad better than Washington’s but ultimately came away with only three more points. The Cardinal advanced into Husky territory three times in the quarter but turned the ball over twice, once on an interception and the other on downs, as a fourth-and-four pass at the Washington 30 fell incomplete.

The Cardinal got to Washington’s 35 late in the second quarter, but rather than try a long field goal that would have been around 50 yards, they elected to punt it away and put the rest of the half in the hands of the defense.

That move backfired, though. Washington suddenly found its offensive groove and drove 88 yards down the field and capped things off with a 7-yard touchdown run by Bishop Sankey to cut Stanford’s lead to three.

Stanford countered beautifully to bring that lead back up. To close out the first half, Kevin Hogan saw Montgomery single-covered on the right side and dropped in deep ball on Montgomery’s outside shoulder for a 38-yard touchdown that cornerback Marcus Peters, who had intercepted Hogan earlier in the half, had no chance of defending.

While the first quarter was a struggle on offense for both teams, the third quarter was anything but. Washington took the ball to start the quarter and again ripped the Stanford defense, this time for 75 yards on only four plays and capping it off by getting into the end zone. Keith Price, using his legs to maneuver out of trouble, found an open Kevin Smith for a 29-yard touchdown to again cut the Stanford lead to a trio.

The Cardinal’s ensuing drive was a bit more time-consuming and methodical, but it ended up netting the same result. They ran the ball seven times on that drive, simply moving the chains until they got into position to strike. Hogan’s 4-yard touchdown did just that.

Washington answered with a touchdown of their later in the quarter and was again within striking distance late in the fourth, riding the legs of Sankey and the dual skills of Price to pierce their way inside the Stanford 10. At that point, Stanford’s came up with the big play that it needed. Linebacker Trent Murphy got his hand on a Price pass and knocked it straight into the air, and A.J Tarpley came down with it to thwart the rally.

But that didn’t stop the Huskies. They got a big stop of their own and forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, getting the ball back with plenty of time left in the game. They once again got deep into Cardinal territory, but this time, they were able to punch it in to cut the lead to three.

Stanford, however, could not put them away, as the Huskies drove just past midfield with a chance to tie or even win the game until the fourth-down pass fell through Smith’s hands.

“It’s not a beauty contest; it’s a football game,” Shaw said. “No matter how imperfect the whole game is, (when) we get to the fourth quarter, we’ve got to finish.

“Our guys finished well.”