SAN FRANCISCO — Shoddy kickoff return coverage, and an inability to produce touchdowns in the red zone, doomed BYU against Washington in the Fight Hunger Bowl Friday night.
The Cougars saw their school-record four-game bowl winning streak end as the Huskies claimed a 31-16 victory before a crowd of 34,136 at AT&T Park.
“The turning points,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, “were our kickoff cover team.”
Yes, Washington enjoyed many happy returns against BYU, as three of the Huskies’ four touchdowns came on, or were aided by, long kickoff returns, including a 100-yard TD return allowed by the Cougars in the second quarter.
"The difference in the game, to Washington's credit, was their kick return game," Mendenhall said.
While BYU outgained Washington in total offense by more than 150 yards (473-319), that wasn’t nearly enough to overcome its many deficiencies.
“We weren’t able to put it in the end zone,” Mendenhall said.
Placekicker Justin Sorensen booted three field goals, including a season-high 45-yarder, but the Cougars desperately needed touchdowns.
But touchdowns were difficult to come by for BYU, as they were at times throughout the season.
“When we get down there, we need to execute at a really high level (in the red zone), and we didn’t do that,” said quarterback Taysom Hill. "We had a couple of penalties that really killed us. We needed to execute better."
BYU finished the year with an 8-5 record, while Washington ended 9-4.
It was the first victory for Washington interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo, who stepped in for Steve Sarkisian, the former BYU QB that left to take the top job at USC.
“I’m just so happy for these kids, and for this program,” Tuiasosopo said.
Washington running back Bishop Sankey, who received offensive MVP honors, ran for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
Hill was a workhorse, rushing 29 times for 143 yards and a touchdown, and completing 25 of 48 passes for 288 yards and one interception.
“Taysom led our team really well,” Mendenhall said. “I thought he played hard. He played physical. He gave us a great chance to win the game.”
Washington converted on a pair of third-and-long plays on its opening possession to take an early 7-0 lead.
On third-and-16, a 17-yard pass from Keith Price to Austin Seferian-Jenkins kept the drive alive near midfield. The Huskies ended up in the end zone on an 11-yard run by Sankey.
The two teams traded punts before a high snap was mishandled by punter Scott Arellano, who ran for a short gain, giving the Huskies the ball at the BYU 22-yard line.
On fourth-and-1 at the BYU 3, Cougar linebacker Kyle Van Noy knifed into the Washington backfield and tackled Sankey for a 9-yard loss.
While the Cougar offense sputtered again, on fourth down, BYU faked a punt as safety Daniel Sorensen lined up at quarterback and picked up 4 yards for a first down. That play kick-started an 88-yard touchdown drive early in the second quarter, sparked by a few impressive pass plays, and capped by a 1-yard Hill run. That TD tied the game, 7-7.
But the Cougars gave up the momentum immediately, as Washington’s John Ross returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to give the lead back to the Huskies, 14-7.
The Cougars scored a pair of field goals from 45 yards (the second-longest of Justin Sorensen’s career) and 31 yards, respectively, to make it 14-13.
But once again, BYU surrendered a 47-yard kickoff return on a short kick, and Sankey scored on another 11-yard TD to put Washington up, 21-13, with 2:36 left in the first half.
But the Cougars responded with a long drive that culminated with a 32-yard Sorensen field goal to cut the deficit to 21-16 at halftime.
At that point, BYU had outgained Washington, 297-145 (the Huskies had 147 kickoff return yards).
Washington shut out the Cougars in the second half.
Hoffman had eight catches for 109 yards in the first half. He was injured with 36 seconds left in the first half on a trick play that saw him take a pitch from running back Paul Lasike. Hoffman threw an incomplete pass to Hill and was injured on the play after absorbing a hard hit. He did return to the game in the second half. He finished with 12 catches for 167 yards.
Washington quickly built on its lead, 28-16, to start the second half by scoring on a 16-yard touchdown catch by Seferian-Jenkins after a 62-yard drive.
Later in the quarter, Robertson Daniel intercepted Price and returned it deep into Washington territory. But a personal foul on Bronson Kaufusi pushed BYU back, then the Cougars failed to move the ball. Sorensen’s 44-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
Just one more lost opportunity in the red zone.
NOTES: Justin Sorensen made 21 field goals (out of 25) in 2013, a BYU record for field goals made in a season, surpassing Owen and Ethan Pochman, who each hit 20 in a season. Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha was named defensive MVP. Chris Petersen, who was hired away from Boise State, officially takes over the Washington program now that the bowl game is over.