Cougars look to knock off second straight Pac-12 team when Huskies come to Provo
BYU hosts a ranked Pac-12 opponent for the third time in four weeks when Washington travels to Provo to face the Cougars on Saturday. It will offer a good measuring stick for both teams as September winds down.
The No. 22 Huskies (2-1, 0-1 Pac-12) bounced back from a disappointing loss to California by dismantling previously unbeaten Hawaii 52-20. Jacob Eason threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns against the Rainbow Warriors. Washington forced three turnovers and raced out to a 21-0 lead midway through the first quarter. The Huskies held Hawaii scoreless on the team's first six possessions.
The Cougars (2-1) won their second straight overtime game in as many weeks, upsetting then-No. 24 USC 30-27. BYU rallied from a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter to upend the Trojans. Zach Wilson led the way, throwing for 280 yards and a touchdown. He also added a 16-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Washington holds a 6-4 lead in the series with BYU. The Huskies routed the Cougars 35-7 in Seattle last season after holding them to just 194 yards of total offense. BYU prevailed 23-17 in the 2010 season opener for its most recent victory in the series. Washington hasn't won in Provo since 1997.
Washington at BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Washington -6.5
When Washington Has the Ball
Jacob Eason has been inconsistent in his first three starts for the Huskies. The junior quarterback completed more than 70 percent of his passes and threw for a combined total of 611 yards and seven touchdowns in wins over Eastern Washington and Hawaii. Facing California's defense offered a different story. Eason totaled 162 yards and an interception while completing 60 percent of his passes.
BYU has shown a knack for forcing quarterbacks to make mistakes over the past two weeks. Eason will need to be decisive, quick, and accurate. Getting Hunter Bryant involved early could help put the Cougars on their heels. Bryant has been a reliable target to this point. The junior tight end leads the Huskies in both catches (15) and receiving yardage (236 yards). Aaron Fuller and Andre Baccellia are also capable of softening up the middle of BYU's defense.
The biggest key for Washington will be to feed Salvon Ahmed and the other running backs the ball early and often. BYU's run defense is porous. The Cougars allow 225 rushing yards per game, ranking 119th among FBS teams. Ahmed fared well against BYU in Seattle a year ago, totaling 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 10 carries. There's no reason to believe he can't do it again or even push for 100 yards on the ground this time around.
When BYU Has the Ball
Patience will be important for the Cougars. Washington's defense has a track record for limiting chunk plays to irregular occurrences. It's one reason why the Huskies have led the Pac-12 in scoring defense and total defense each of the last four seasons.
Ty'Son Williams can alleviate some pressure from Zach Wilson if he can continue to make plays in the backfield. Williams is averaging 5.5 yards per carry through his first three games. He rushed for a career-high 99 yards on 19 carries against USC. His power-running ability can give BYU's defense a breather at critical junctures.
Wilson isn't likely to have much success stretching the field against Washington. His best bet is to get into an early rhythm with short passes to tight ends Matt Bushman and Moroni Laulu-Pututau and slot receiver Aleva Hifo. Bushman and Hifo each have nine receptions through three games. Hifo is averaging 9.4 yards per catch while Bushman is averaging 13.2 yards. If they can get going, Micah Simon and Gunner Romney will have more chances to make plays on the outside. Simon is BYU's top receiver through three games, totaling 210 yards on 13 receptions.
Jake Oldroyd will be a major asset if BYU's defense can contain Washington's offense for sufficiently long stretches. Oldroyd ranks first in the FBS for field goals made (8) and second in field goals per game (2.67).
Generating offense isn't going to come easy for BYU in this game. Washington hasn't allowed an opponent to score 35 or more points in 59 consecutive games dating back to 2014. Just nine teams have even reached 30 points in that span. The Huskies are dogged on defense and have all the necessary skill to stifle a BYU offense that isn't all that explosive in the first place. In the end, this game will end up feeling a lot more like the ugly loss to Utah than the dramatic comeback wins against Tennessee and USC for the Cougars.
Prediction: Washington 31, BYU 17
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.