For our Five Questions, Five Answers feature, we caught up with BYU beat writer Jeff Call of the Deseret News. Many thanks to Jeff for helping to preview the Fight Hunger Bowl matchup. You can find Jeff’s work at the Deseret News website and on Twitter @AJeffreyCall.
1. What’s been the biggest surprise for BYU this season? The biggest disappointment?
The biggest surprise had to be BYU’s domination of Texas early in the season — running for a school-record 550 yards against the Longhorns. Nobody saw that coming. The biggest disappointment was the 19-16 loss at Virginia in the season-opener, as well as a fourth-straight loss to arch-rival Utah at home.
2. BYU’s scheduled this season has been described as one of its toughest ever. What have been some of the challenges for the Cougars as an FBS independent?
One of the biggest challenges has been playing formidable opponents in the month of November. The Cougars didn’t have that problem this year with games at Wisconsin and Notre Dame that month. Overall, it’s been a challenge for BYU to schedule elite teams at home. Not many want to play in Provo. I also think it’s been tough for the Cougars not to have a conference championship to play for anymore.
3. The Cougars, much like Washington, shifted to an up-tempo attack before this season. What prompted that change, and are the results what they were looking for?
The change was prompted by a stagnant offense the previous season. Coach Bronco Mendenhall hired Robert Anae back as offensive coordinator (Anae spent 2005-10 as BYU’s OC before leaving for Arizona) and he brought with him elements of Arizona’s offense. Anae saw quarterback Taysom Hill‘s running ability and has made the most of it. Still, the offense still isn’t quite to the level Anae wants it to be. It lacks consistency and efficiency on third down and in the red zone.
4. Taysom Hill became the first BYU player to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. How good has he been this season?
Hill has been very good at times. His performances against Utah State and Houston, for example, were amazing. But he is looking to be more consistent, particularly as a passer. He really struggled with his accuracy early in the season and while that improved, he has thrown several interceptions the last month of the season.
5. Kyle Van Noy and Uani ‘Unga are the headliners for the BYU defense, which has been good against the run. What, in general, are the keys for the defense heading into this matchup with UW?
The Cougar defense needs to be gap-sound and assignment-sound against Washington. Bishop Sankey is the best running back BYU has faced this season and the Cougars respect his abilities. BYU will be without one of its best run-stoppers, linebacker Spencer Hadley, who is out with a knee injury. Under Mendenhall, BYU has been pretty good against the run, but it will need to be at its best in order to slow down the Huskies’ explosive attack.