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BYU vs Washington: The Husky Perspective

As the Cougars get set to welcome the Washington Huskies this Saturday, I thought I would get a pulse from Husky Nation on how they view this game.  I was able to contact John Berkowitz who covers the Washington Huskies for SB Nation in Seattle, and had him answer a few specific questions regarding the return of Steve Sarkisian, QB Jake Locker and the rest of the "UW Dawg Pound."

VTF:   Steve Sarkisian is returning to BYU for the first time, for any reason, since graduating.  He has obliged to be part of a game day ceremony that will acknowledge the All-American Quarterbacks from BYU, but what are Sark’s true feelings towards BYU?  Does he consider himself an Alumni? Or was it just a school to go to, to play football (ala Jim McMahon)?

JB:   From what I have read this will be the first time he has returned to the school since he graduated.  He was a JC transfer whose main reason for attending the school was to play for LaVell Edwards. He isn’t Mormon and didn’t spend much time there so there really aren’t any close ties.

VTF:   Jake Heaps, the #1 QB recruit in the country gets swiped from underneath Steve Sarkisian’s nose and now faces the potential of starting for BYU against his #2 choice, and home school in Washington.  What do the UW faithful want to see from Heaps in this game and in his future at BYU?

JB:   Heaps was as good as gone before Sarkisian arrived on the scene at Washington. You can chalk the loss of Heaps to Tyrone Willingham. You have to give credit to Mendenhall and his staff for developing a relationship with Heaps that began at the beginning of his sophomore year.  What do we want to see from Jake Heaps? We just want to watch him see to see purple all day while he is lying on his back during his debut. After that I hope he has a great career.

VTF:   In the last meeting BYU won after another controversial PAC 10 officiating call on Jake Heap’s celebration.  Is that fresh on the minds of UW fans as we approach the rematch, or being two years removed is it truly in the past?

JB:   It was a terrible call that went BYU’s way but since it was two years ago under a different coaching staff I don’t think it will have much of a current  impression. If it had been MWC refs perhaps we would hold a grudge.

 VTF:   Does Locker have a new "Non Celebration" TD celebration prepared for Provo?

JB:   No…I think he will be extremely restrained in his celebratory style.

 VTF:   Washington is a team which many, myself included, feel is quickly returning to the upper tier of the PAC 10.  How will a win at BYU shape the rest of a very tough season for the Huskies?  What affect would a loss have on the Huskies?

JB:   We need to pick up a win on the road over a quality opponent to get the season rolling. We seem to be catching the Cougars during the start of a rebuilding year so that should give Washington the edge. A loss would be viewed as a setback even though we all know that Provo is a difficult place to play at.

VTF:   Locker used to be all feet and now he has developed into one heck of an all around QB.  Do you see the Heisman Hopeful using his feet once again to move the ball against BYU (’08), especially once they see the tape of what FSU did to BYU last year with a running quarterback, or will a more mature Locker try and beat the Cougars with a finely tuned passing attack?

JB:   Jake is a completely different QB than he was two seasons ago. He also has quite a few more offensive tools surrounding him these days. Washington was completely reliant on Jake the last time these two teams played. That is not the case anymore. Look for Jake to throw first and pass second. I think the most he will run this year is around ten times per game. If Washington gets ahead there will be no reason for him to run.)

 VTF:  What type of year do you see the Huskies having both on a national scene and in the PAC 10?

JB:   I think we have the ability to knock on the door of the top 25 and win in the neighborhood of eight games this season. The Pac 10 is pretty wide open this season so everyone but WSU has a decent shot this season.

John then gave me a chance to offer some insights from the BYU Perspective:

JB: Who will be the starting quarterback for BYU on September 4th?

VTF:   You will see Riley Nelson start for the Cougars because of the added pressure for Jake Heaps to make his first collegiate start against his home town team.  That is not to say you won’t see Heaps in the game though.  Riley will take the first snap, but Jake will make an appearance.  To start a true freshman against his home town team is asking too much.  You know as well as I do that the UW defense will bring the heat if they see a rookie behind center.  That adds a lot of pressure on opening day.   I expect Coach Anae and Coach Mendenhal to yield to experience and let Riley ease Jake into the game.

 JB: Now that the WAC is dissolving, will BYU still pursue being an independent in football?

VTF:   If you asked me 4 days ago I would’ve bet the farm on BYU going independent.  Even with the talk of putting the other sports in the WAC, BYU was just throwing a line in the water to see who would bite.  When the MWC signed their TV deal it had a lot of hidden language and terms that nobody really took the time to read into.  What BYU was trying to do with the Independent talk was to grasp the attention of the MWC and force them to make changes that would allow BYU to expand upon its broadcasting capabilities.  BYU will remain in the MWC until they have an opportunity to play in a bigger conference. 

 JB: We have heard that this is a rebuilding year on both sides of the ball for BYU.  Do you think the Cougars will experience some growing pains during the first part of the season?

VTF:   Defensively the Cougars are going to be hurting at LB to start the season.  With only one spot solidified in the return of Jordan Pendleton, I worry about the integrity of the interior defense.  However, the defensive line will be one of the strongest in the last 4 years and that can take some of the pressure off.  Offensively I see a rebuilding at QB and TE.  Right now the QB is the big IF.  Neither QB is a proven starter at the collegiate level and all the tight ends are freshmen.  Outside of those two spots you have a very talented and very experienced offense. 

The fact of the matter is that BYU can’t afford to have growing pains at the beginning of the season because their schedule is front loaded.  5 of their first 7 games are going to be against very tough opponents, including UW, Air Force and Florida State and Nevada right out of the gate.   If there are lessons to be learned they better learn them early or the season could get out of hand.

 JB: Who is going to pick up the slack for Harvey Unga this fall?

VTF:   The running back corps will most likely be by committee, but it is a very capable committee.  Cougar fans have to be excited by the return of Bryan Kariya, knowing what he did against the Sooners last year in Texas.  Along side Kariya will be DiLuigi who has also proven himself at this level.  Add freshman Josh Quezada into the mix and you have three very different, but very effective runners.  Utilizing them all in the right way will keep the opposing defenses off balance. 

JB:   Who do we keep an eye on defensively for the Cougars?

VTF:   Defensively for the Cougars I keep my eye on two people; Safety, Andrew Rich and Defensive End, Vic So’Oto.  The last game So’Oto played was against the Huskies in Washington where he broke his foot on the first play of the game, so this is a fitting return for the senior from Carlsbad, CA.  Vic is an amazingly talented player who just has had a hard time staying healthy.  I expect and hope for big things from him this year.  Andrew Rich is no secret to opposing receivers.  He patrols the airs just waiting for a big hit, and you can count on him to deliver two or three a game.  If the ball’s in the air, I always want to know where Rich is.