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Rick Bowmer, AP
Washington head coach Chris Petersen shouts to his team in the second half during an NCAA college football game against Utah, Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Salt Lake City. Washington won 21-7. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
SEATTLE — It’s been 10 years since BYU last visited Husky Stadium.
At that time, the Cougars were ranked No. 15 in the country and they barely defeated a beleaguered Washington team — by one point, 28-27 — that would go on to post an 0-12 record in 2008.
A lot has changed since then. While BYU is now independent and both programs have gone through coaching changes.
The No. 20 Cougars (3-1) and No. 11 Huskies (3-1) meet again Saturday (6:30 p.m. MDT, FOX) at Husky Stadium.
Former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian became Washington’s head coach in 2009 and returned the Huskies to respectability. In 2014, Chris Petersen left Boise State to take the helm.
Under Petersen, Washington, which is one of the most successful programs in the nation, has become a national power once again. The Huskies were part of the College Football Playoff a couple of years ago.
BYU passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick has coached against the Huskies for many years, having previously been on Utah’s staff.
“You can tell that he’s established that winning culture that he had at Boise. Washington’s always been a program that had good players,” Roderick said. “They’ve continued to recruit good players. But they operate so efficiently. They have a belief in themselves in their program and everything fits together — the way they play offense, the way they play defense, the way the play special teams. It’s a program that’s hitting on all cylinders all the time. That’s what we’re trying to do here, too. The way we play offense fits the way the way we play defense and special teams. We have a formula for winning and that’s what they have there as well. They do it as well as anybody in the country.”
Going into the season, Washington was regarded as a playoff contender and it fell to No. 10 Auburn 21-16 in its season opener.
Defensively, the Huskies rank No. 4 in scoring defense, No. 15 in pass efficiency defense and No. 17 nationally in total defense.
“If you look at the statistics, particularly what they do in the passing game, they make it really hard on you to throw the ball,” said BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. “But they’re good in rush defense, too. They are a very good defense. They’ve got a lot of size and strength up front and a lot of speed on the back end. It will be a real challenge for us.”
Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, who recorded 20 tackles last week against Arizona State, is the reigning Bronko Nagurski Trophy national defensive player of the week.
“You watch them and the first thing comes off the top is their athleticism. It’s an athletic group across the board,” BYU receiver Dylan Collie said of Washington’s defense. “They’ve got a great defensive line and great defensive backs. Their linebackers play physical. They can chase things down and they can make plays all over the field, no matter what position they’re at.”
Offensively, the Huskies are led by senior quarterback Jake Browning, who has completed 70 of 115 passes for 966 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.
“He anticipates really well. He’s really intelligent. He sees things and is really accurate,” said BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. “He’s a good player. Good timing, good execution. He runs their offense really, really well.”
Running back Myles Gaskin has rushed 83 times for 357 yards.
“He’s a really good back. He’s a phenomenal back. He’s not as big and powerful as Wisconsin’s guy (Jonathan Taylor) but he’s really patient and hits the holes and does a really good job finding soft spots in the defense and exploiting it,” Tuiaki said. “He’ll be a challenge for sure. We’ll have to corral him and tackle him and wrap him up. He could end up cutting one back all the way to the other side of the field and gaining a lot of yards on us. We’ve got to keep him in front of us.”
Wide receivers Aaron Fuller and Ty Jones, a Provo High product, have the ability to stretch the field. Fuller has caught 22 passes for 367 yards and one touchdown while Jones has hauled in 10 receptions for 202 yards and four TDs.
“They’re fast with really good ball skills. Their running backs are patient. Their quarterback has a lot of accolades,” Tuiaki said. “The fact that they have really good players is one thing. But it’s probably one of the more in sync offenses that we’ll see all year. They’re well-coached. They know who they are and what they’re trying to do. Their players are really intelligent.”