PROVO — Remember the Badgers.
That’s emerging as one of BYU’s battle cries this week, a confidence-building technique, if you will, as the 2-1 Cougars prepare for a visit from No. 22 Washington on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Wait a sec. Isn’t it the Washington Huskies?
Yes, it is those same Huskies that walloped BYU 35-7 in Seattle on Sept. 29 last year, dominating the then-No. 20 Cougars in a game that was never competitive. BYU was never the same after that comeuppance, and never got close to the national rankings again.
So how does Wisconsin play into all of this? Simple: In that forgettable 2017 season, the Badgers rolled into LES and put a 40-6 whipping on BYU in a game that also was never in doubt.
Coach Kalani Sitake said he used that embarrassing outing to show his guys, especially the offensive and defensive linemen, that they needed to get bigger and stronger in the trenches. A year later in Madison, BYU stunned the No. 6 Badgers and the college football world, riding off with a 24-21 victory. BYU rushed for nearly 200 yards, held the great Jonathan Taylor to 117 on the ground, and Sitake gave the proverbial game ball to his strength and conditioning coaches.
Can the Cougars pull off another amazing turnaround this week against a team that was clearly better than them 358 days ago?
“That was a great learning experience for us last year and we are looking to see how much we learned from that and how much we learned from last week’s (30-27 overtime win over No. 24 USC) and seeing how we match up,” Sitake said during his Monday press briefing.
Washington (2-1) doesn’t look quite as powerful as it did last year, but is still a 6.5-point favorite in the game that will air on ABC television in most western U.S. markets and ESPN2 in others. The Huskies routed Eastern Washington 47-14 in their opener, were upset 20-19 by California in a weather-delayed contest and then drubbed Hawaii 52-20 last Saturday. All those games were in Seattle.
“I mean, there are a lot of returning players, but there are a lot of different pieces to it,” Sitake said. “I have a lot of respect for coach (Chris) Petersen because he can get that group ready. That’s what they do; guys graduate and get drafted, and then they bring more guys in and it is like they don’t even miss a beat.”
Washington is making its first trip to Provo since taking a 23-17 loss in the 2010 opener when BYU used a rotating quarterback system (Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson) to down a club coached by former Cougar QB Steve Sarkisian. Last year, the No. 11 Huskies held BYU to 194 yards of offense and led 35-0 before a meaningless Cougar TD in the final seconds.
Jake Browning was 23 of 25 for 277 yards and Myles Gaskins rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown. They are both gone, but RB Salvon Ahmed (86 yards, two TDs) is back and Petersen has another big-time QB in Georgia transfer Jacob Eason.
A revenge game for BYU?
“The only bearing (from that game to this game) is how I function as a head coaching and what I can do to help my team get better,” Sitake said. “Every year is different. But for us, we keep working with what we got. … There is a plan set, and our guys are ready for it, and we are really looking forward to the challenge.”
That’s Sitake’s politically correct take. A couple of Cougars who appeared at the press briefing and participated in the game last year are reading the rematch differently.
“It is huge motivation,” said sophomore receiver Gunner Romney, BYU’s leading receiver in the win over USC with three catches for 54 yards and a long of 35. “I mean, you always want to prove yourself against everybody, but especially against the team that got the better of you the year before. You have that extra motivation to come out and work hard because you don’t want to have it happen again. So you kinda play with a chip on your shoulder because they came out on top last year. We want to be able to come out on top this year.”
Just as they did against Wisconsin.
“It is pretty much the same thing as Wisconsin,” Romney said. “It just kinda adds the intensity to practice and to our focus.”
One of Saturday’s defensive heroes, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Lorenzo Fauatea, said Washington’s offensive line last year was the best he’s faced as a Cougar.
“It will be a challenge for me and our (defensive) line to make a statement in this game and change it from last season to a new season this year,” he said.
Graduate-transfer running back Ty’Son Williams, accustomed to one big game after another from his days with South Carolina of the SEC, said the Cougars practiced the “24-hour rule” after Saturday’s win.
“You celebrate it, you enjoy the victory, but once Monday comes around you are ready to get back to work,” he said. “College football is a one-week season.”
Sometimes, that one week to remember happened a year ago.
- BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum (12) is sacked by Washington Huskies defensive back Taylor Rapp (7) in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Washington won 35-7. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- A BYU fan watches the closing minute in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Washington won 35-7. Jeffrey D. Allred, Desert News
- BYU head coach Kalani Sitake watches the clock in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
- BYU linebacker Butch Pau’u dives for Washington running back Salvon Ahmed (26) in Seattle on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Washington won 35-7. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
BYU’s 4-6 record against Washington
In Provo: Three wins, one loss
In Seattle: One win, four losses
In San Francisco (bowl game): One loss