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SAN FRANCISCO — Yogi Berra, the great Yankee catcher who was almost as famous for his quirky quotes as he was for his baseball prowess, once humorously said, "it's deja va all over again!" The redundancy of this statement adequately describes how BYU's performance in the Fight Hunger Bowl against Washington mirrored so much of the Cougars' 2013 regular season performance.
The script to BYU's loss felt all too rehashed for Cougar fans. The stage, the quality of opponent, the glimpses of brilliance followed by momentum-killing mistakes, struggles in the red zone and special teams miscues were much akin to the rest of the season for the Cougars.
As had been the case in much of 2013, the Cougars were given a stage where they could propel their brand and garner interest in their program. The game was on ESPN and given a solid time slot for much of the country to watch. Big wins on ESPN in the past helped the Cougs become a legitimate national power in 1984 en route to their national championship and launched Ty Detmer to the front of the Heisman race in 1990. However, like they had done against Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Utah, the Cougars laid an egg and failed to produce a win (or even an exciting contest).
Like many of the teams BYU had faced throughout 2013, Washington came into the season with considerable amounts of hype. It was returning stud quarterback Keith Price and its workhouse running back Bishop Sankey, as well as a slew of other talented players. Like many of BYU's other opponents this season, UW never fully lived up to the prognostications of greatness. While the Huskies started hot, their fortunes quickly turned when they lost three consecutive games to the big boys in the Pac-12. In Washington, BYU faced (and lost to) another good but not great BCS team.
Glimpses of brilliance followed by momentum-killing mistakes
As had been the case all year, BYU had its chances and, at times, looked poised to make a major breakthrough. The 2013 Cougars were not blown out in any of their five losses. The loss to the Huskies turned out to be the biggest point differential, with UW winning by two touchdowns. But it seemed that every time BYU made a big play against Washington, it quickly followed it up with a costly mistake. After an impressive 88-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, BYU allowed Huskies returner John Ross to go 100 yards basically untouched on the ensuing kickoff to quickly swing the momentum back to Washington.
Later, in the third quarter, the Cougars needed a big play on defense to provide their sputtering offense a spark. They got that play when Robertson Daniel intercepted an errant pass and returned it all the way to Washington's 11-yard line. The excitement faded, however, when BYU was slapped with a 15-yard personal foul on the return. The offense quickly went three and out and missed a field goal it should have made. While the game was not technically out of reach at that point, that was the last real threat the Cougars posed to changing the outcome of the game. Every single game BYU lost this year, it failed to take advantage of opportunities because of silly mistakes.
Struggles in the red zone
Technically, BYU scored in every possession where it moved the ball into the red zone. However, as had been the case all year, the Cougars had to settle for chip-shot field goals and left touchdowns on the board that could have easily changed the whole landscape of the game. Also, as had been the case all year, there was plenty of blame to go around for the red zone deficiencies.
One drive stalled after an odd play call had Cody Hoffman throwing a short pass to Taysom Hill. Hoffman was injured on the play and Hill took yet another shot that caused him to drop the ball. Another red zone drive was hampered when Hill missed a wide-open Hoffman on an out pattern near the end zone. Had the Cougars been even an average offensive team in the red zone in 2013, there is a good chance that they would have cracked 10-plus wins.
Special teams miscues
In every 2013 BYU loss, besides perhaps the Wisconsin game, the Cougars made some very costly mistakes on special teams. After giving up a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, BYU tried to squib its next few kicks. With just a few minutes before halftime, Washington's Jesse Callier made BYU pay when he returned a short kick 47 yards all the way down to the Cougar 35-yard line.
Four plays later, the Huskies punched the ball into the end zone. BYU's special teams also missed a field goal (after a poor snap to the holder), had their punter muff a deep snap that resulted in a turnover and had a punt (with no pressure applied) that went a grand total of 8 yards. The special team ineptness led directly and indirectly to Washington scores that would ultimately decide the game.
2013 could have been and nearly was a special season for the BYU Cougar football team. The stages were set and BYU's opponents were solid but beatable. But recurrent deficiencies would hound the Cougars all year and were again present in their bowl game loss. To borrow a line from another quotable figure, John Greenleaf Whittier, "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 'It might have been.’ ” Cougar fans will have almost nine months to reflect on these words.