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A year later, Washington is still way better than BYU, but the Cougars have improved, at least on offense

Huskies have downed BYU by a combined 54 points in the two-game series, while slicing through the Cougars’ injury-riddled defense with surprising ease both times.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) throws against the Washington Huskies in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) throws against the Washington Huskies in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO — This just in: Washington is still a much better football team than BYU.

That’s not exactly a news flash, but some among BYU’s worldwide fanbase were thinking, perhaps buoyed by the euphoria of back-to-back overtime wins over Tennessee and then-No. 24 USC, that coach Kalani Sitake’s crew had finally turned the corner in staring down Power Five opponents and surviving, especially at home.

The No. 22 Huskies showed otherwise — for the second-straight September.

On another picturesque early autumn day seemingly created for college football at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the Huskies “did everything they wanted to do,” in the words of Sitake, and pummeled BYU 45-19 with the same ease in which they drubbed the then-punchless Cougs 35-7 last year in Seattle.

They called it a throwback game for BYU in front of 62,117 sun-splashed fans and a national television audience, but after new UW quarterback Jacob Eason surgically sliced up the Cougars as efficiently as Jacob Browning did 12 months ago, they should just refer to it as a throwaway game because BYU’s play resembled more garbage than greatness.

“We were hoping we could come in here and show a different type of game, but it seemed like mistakes in all three phases of the game against a great team like that doesn’t work out that way,” Sitake said.

Not when there’s as noticeable a talent, size, speed and strength gap as there was at LaVell’s house Saturday.

“Washington was simply better,” said BYU tight end Matt Bushman, praising the visitors but later adding, “Our personal mistakes made them look like world-beaters.”

The question now becomes, is BYU (2-2) better than it was last year at this juncture after dropping to 3-2 from that demolition at Husky Stadium? The Cougars went in a tailspin after that rout, losing two of their next three at home, 45-20 to Utah State and 7-6 to Northern Illinois.

Let’s start with the positives. Certainly, BYU’s offense seems to be better.

Unlike a year ago, the Cougars moved the ball well at times against a UW defense that lost nine starters but was still packed with potent playmakers. One back-breaker occurred when Ryan Bowman beat Tristen Hoge’s block and stripped BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. Brandon Wellington beat Hoge to the ball, then rumbled 69 yards to give the Huskies a 21-3 lead.

In the third quarter, after the second-biggest BYU mistake in a game full of them — receiver Dax Milne’s fumble after an apparent first down pickup — Eason sensed a BYU blitz, checked out of a play, and threw a 35-yard strike to a streaking Andre Baccellia for a touchdown.

“It is the guys trying to do too much, and that’s not their job, to do too much with the ball, reaching out for the extra yard,” Sitake said. “Their job is just protecting the ball.”

Three plays before Wellington’s scoop and score, Wilson found Talon Shumway open over the middle and it appeared the senior had a clear path to the end zone, but he didn’t take the ball with him. That drop, one of the few for BYU this season, proved costly moments later.

“It’s hard to come back after so many turnovers,” Bushman said.

Wilson finished 26 of 42 for 277 yards and a touchdown with one interception that wasn’t totally his fault (Aleva Hifo fell down, allowing Asa Turner an easy pick) and made some strong throws to go with a few that were wildly off-target. The Cougars had 356 yards of offense, after being held to 194 last year. That’s improvement.

“Washington did a great job, and we didn’t really help ourselves,” Sitake said. “It would be nice to have that one back, but we don’t. We have to learn from it and get better. Washington is a great team. How I would rank them, I don’t know.”

Of course the Cougars want a do-over, but does anyone really think the outcome would be different? Not anyone who watched BYU’s banged-up defense try to control Eason and company.

So here’s the negative: BYU’s defense was not better. The most glaring weakness remains an inability to get pressure on capable passers.

So easy was Washington’s day on offense that the Huskies didn’t have to punt until 11:11 remained in the game.

Eason completed 13 straight passes in the first half and finished 24 of 28 for 290 yards and three touchdowns. If the Cougars got a hand on the 6-foot-6 transfer from Georgia, it wasn’t memorable. They got no sacks.

“If everybody is not on the same page, our scheme doesn’t work,” said BYU cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku.

Dropping eight, as the Cougars did effectively against USC’s true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis last week, didn’t work against the seasoned Eason and coach Chris Petersen’s superior play-calling and game-planning.

If USC coach Clay Helton and his staff was out-coached last week, Sitake and his group was handed the same verdict Saturday. Especially the defensive coaches.

“Just his experience really helped him complete passes,” said BYU linebacker Max Tooley, who came up with an interception he returned to the 7 to set up BYU’s final TD, a 7-yard pass to Bushman that was tipped in the end zone by UW defender Keith Taylor.

Tooley fumbled the ball away in a weird attempt to stretch it over the 5-yard line, but a replay review showed his knee was down, barely. That and Bushman’s catch of a deflected pass were about the only breaks that went BYU’s way. Of course, Washington made its own breaks.

Eason’s efficiency, combined with the 23 of 25 performance Browning dealt BYU last year, means Washington QBs are an amazing 47 of 52 for 567 yards and four touchdowns in the recent series. There’s no scheduled rematch, which is probably better news for the Cougars than the Huskies, now 7-4 against BYU.

“They executed their game plan and we weren’t able to execute ours,” Sitake said. “As coaches, we will do better.”

Twice in the opening minutes of his postgame remarks Sitake placed the blame for the loss on himself, while also crediting Washington for being the superior team.

The latter is probably the best explanation as to why BYU was throttled for the second straight time by the Pac-12 power.

Sometimes, the other guys are just better. In the Huskies’ case, they are much better.