Even without all of the off-the-field stuff, this would be an interesting game - an explosive UW offense, well-balanced between the run and the pass with a solid defense that is particularly good defending the pass vs. a run-heavy BYU offense with a big, mobile running QB and a tough, stingy defense. Plus you've got the secular Pac-12 school vs. the independent LDS flagship school that still carries a grudge over getting bypassed to join the Pac in favor of Utah. Not to mention a significant recent history of games between the two programs.
From strictly a football standpoint, you have to be interested in seeing how well the UW offense can operate against BYU's defense and vice versa. By advanced measures you're looking at a matchup of top-20 units with our offense vs. their defense. It goes without saying, but getting Bishop Sankey rolling will be a big part of the Husky offense finding success. What will be interesting to watch is whether the run game sets up the passing game, or the other way around. I expect the Dawgs to test BYU in all facets - using the horizontal passing game with Jaydon Mickens and John Ross to stretch the Cougars sideline to sideline with the intention of getting fewer defenders between the tackles to open things up for Sankey. And if Sankey gets going, expect the Huskies to utilize play-action and take some shots deep with Kevin Smith, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Damore'ea Stringfellow. Keeping Keith Price upright will be critical, and while the UW OL has been poor in that regard, BYU has been just OK in registering sacks this year.
When BYU has the ball, it will be interesting to see if Wilcox goes big on defense to defend their running game. Danny Shelton will need to have another strong game clogging the middle, and Evan Hudson can hopefully build off the progress he was showing at the close of the season. The linebackers will be severely tested - Cougar QB Taysom Hill is a big kid at 6'2", 221 lbs. They'll need to be sound in their tackling fundamentals and bring him down on first contact. They aren't a terrible passing team, but our coverage units should be more than a match which should allow Wilcox to stack the box with 8 or 9 guys at times.
With all of that said, the biggest question mark is the mental state of the team. With their head coach gone with 2 of his top assistants, and the rest of the staff that remains all likely coaching their last game at Washington, how focused are the players? Are they just playing out the string and looking ahead to the off-season? Or do they feel they have something to prove to themselves and their departing teammates? Will they rally under interim head coach Marques Tuiasosopo?
I'm going with the optimistic view and saying that they carry their "We all we got, we all we need" mantra into the game and that the leadership on the team has rallied the troops to go out on a high note. The Huskies have a talent edge in this one, and I think they'll hold an emotional one as well. Let's call it Washington 31, BYU 20
Hard to believe that we've finally reached the very last day of the football season. Frankly, it couldn't come soon enough with all of the drama around the program the past three weeks. While I'm sad that this is likely the last hurrahs for both Justin Wilcox and Marques Tuiasosopo (if not Tosh Lupoi), I can't help but to feel that the emotional ups and downs that we've endured as a fan base will only be cured with a Husky victory in the Fight Hunger Bowl. But, will it come to pass?
Defensively, the Huskies don't matchup ideally. Their pass defense should be able to handle Taysom Hill's passing attack which will be a factor if the Huskies can get BYU in 3-and-long situations. However, the Cougars are going to feature a fast-paced, multi-pronged rushing attack that features a rotation of backs to complement Hill's legs. The Huskies have handled this kind of attack with some success before - think earlier in the season when the Dawgs played Arizona (in fact, BYU's OC was previously of UA) - but they've also fallen flat on their face when challenged by other similar teams (such as ASU and, to a lesser extent, UCLA). Regardless, I expect the Huskies to play rush all the way and dare Hill to beat them with his arm. I'm not sure he can, but I wouldn't dismiss it altogether.
Offensively, the Huskies will get challenged by an underrated defensive team who plays the rush first. If the Huskies can executed the balanced, fast-paced attack, I like their chances to move the ball efficiently. However, there are a few studs on the other side in Kyle Van Noy and Uani Unga (131 Tackles!) who can cause some negative plays and turnovers if the Huskies get overly aggressive or if Keith Price decides to go all Clark Kent on us. I'm guessing there will be a few plays that Husky fans will rue, but I like the Huskies to take advantage of the fact that BYU is playing without Spencer Hadley and to move the ball with some effectiveness.
While I'm not one on intangibles, I can't help but to feel that the Huskies will be playing themselves in addition to the BYU Cougars. While I'm sure they will be focused, together and fired up to start the game, I have no sense as to how they'll handle the first adversity that they encounter in the game. We'll have to see.
Either way, there is a lot for the Huskies to play for ... including the first bowl victory for Keith Price and the possible swan songs of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Bishop Sankey. To make it all count, I think that this is going to be a race to 31 - first team there wins. Given that KP is the better QB, I'll go with the Huskies in a squeaker: 31-30.