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PROVO — The Cougars wrapped up practice in Provo Friday night, feeling ready for a tough game with Washington in the upcoming Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco.
BYU's senior class has produced some great players with great accomplishments over their 4+ years in the program. Among those accomplishments include a four game winning streak in bowl games. The seniors are hungry to finish most of their careers undefeated in bowl games and to set up the next year for the returning players.
"I'm ready to move on, but I'm ready to win and help set up the guys for next year" linebacker Kyle Van Noy said. "I hope to continue it (bowl win streak), and I hope to send the seniors out right."
Safety Daniel Sorenson felt the same way saying, "we're excited; I think Washington is a good team and a good matchup for us. It's another game to play and an opportunity for us to show what we can do and to gain momentum going into next season."
Daniel Sorensen was a member of the last Bronco Mendenhall team to lose a bowl game in 2008 at the Las Vegas Bowl. Having that experience, he shared why bowl games are such a big deal at BYU. "It's a big deal. Not very many people make it to a bowl game and we want to prove that we're a good team when we go there."
Having faced one of the most difficult schedule in BYU history, Sorensen says the team is excited for one more chance against a nationally recognized program. "I don't think it's a motivating factor, but personally, I take some pride in that. We want to show the country and prove to ourselves that we can play with those kind of teams. They're another team that we have to go out and beat."
Kyle Van Noy is among those seniors and while it's a guarantee that he will be an NFL Draft pick, he is focused completely on this game and finishing his career as a Cougar in the right way. "I'm excited and hungry to get back on the field one last time."
While Van Noy was expected to leave last season, his decision to return excited Cougar Nation. Looking back on the season, he shared some thoughts on things he will take away from his senior season. "The maturity level has raised a lot for me by coming back. Finishing school was huge. I think learning to improve every day, finding weaknesses in my game, and helping the younger guys has been huge for me, and I've been super happy."
Van Noy also graduated today, calling it a "big accomplishment for me and my family."
Linebacker Coach Kelly Poppinga had some high praise for his star linebacker. "I think he's the best linebacker I've ever coached and one of the best, if not the best, defensive player to ever play here. He's had a great career and his stats are unbelievable. It's pretty impressive what he's been able to do here the last four years."
The Cougars are facing a Washington team that has won eight games for the first time since 2001 and boasts one of the nation's best rushers in Bishop Sankey, who has 1,775 yards rushing and 35 career rushing touchdowns. "I think their skilled guys do most of the work and I think their running back is extremely good" shared Van Noy.
Van Noy talked about the Cougars struggles against the run at the end of the season against Wisconsin and Notre Dame and what the Cougars can improve upon saying, "we can do better. I think we just need to play our gaps better and be more physical." Van Noy also compared Sankey to an opponent from last year's bowl game. "I think (Sankey) is similar to Muema from last years team (SDSU). He's a hard runner, jukes a lot of people, breaks tackles, runs hard, and he's fast. He has a combination of everything and he's a good player."
Sorensen shared Van Noy's opinion. "He's a really good running back, but this extra time to prepare has helped us. We respect him as a running back and we're going to try and hold the running yards down."
Sorensen has nothing but respect for Washington and feels it will be a great game.
"They've played some tough teams and have some tough losses. I think they're a better team than their record shows. They have some dynamic offensive players."
While the defense prepares for the Huskies' explosive offense, all eyes will be on Taysom Hill and the BYU offense. Hill shared his thoughts on what the offense has learned this season and the keys to winning this game.
"In the games we lost, we needed to execute at a higher level. We're playing better competition and when we make little mistakes, we haven't seen success. Our emphasis will be to execute, make sure nobody makes mistakes, and fulfill our individual assignments on every play. If we do that, we're going to be hard to beat."
Hill also shared insights into his thoughts on the offense this season and how the Cougars are preparing. "I'm happy with the things we have accomplished as an offensive unit and I'm looking forward to building off that this bowl game. We've played pretty well this season and we're not going to be doing anything different. We will be ready."
Having missed last year's Poinsettia Bowl, Hill shared that he feels ready and excited for what this bowl game could do for the program.
"It's another football game," Hill said. "Being independent, we're playing different conferences all the time so there's not that much of a difference. I'm treating it like every other game, I want it just like I wanted every other game, and my preparation will be the same. It will set the stage for our offseason. It would give us a lot of momentum going into our offseason and into our opener in 2014."
While the Cougars' offense has shown promise at times, they struggled to start effectively in their last three games against FBS opponents. Hill knows that and shared the Cougars' plans to make sure the offense gets off to a good start. "It's really big for any offense. We're working hard to make sure we get off to a good start. We've gone through the playbook, we've seen what plays and formations have been really productive for us and that's where we'll start. Hopefully that will allow us to start fast and continue it throughout the game."
Tune in as the Cougars battle the Huskies in San Francisco at the Fight Hunger Bowl on December 27th. The game can be heard on KSL Newsradio 1160 AM/102.7 FM with pregame beginning at 4:30 p.m. MST, and kickoff starting at 6:30 p.m. MST.
You can listen to post-practice audio from Kyle Van Noy, Taysom Hill, Daniel Sorensen and Kelly Poppinga by clicking on the links in "Cougar Cuts," above left.
Reggie Lewis is a KSL Newsradio BYU intern.