UW-BYU: A college football series built on the weird and ironic

USA Today photo

Game usually plays out with an unusual outside theme

The Washington and BYU football teams meet for the 10th time this Saturday afternoon at Husky Stadium. National TV. Both ranked. One of the weekend’s best matchups.

Yet there’s usually a weird underlying subplot to this intersectional pairing. It’s never just about football. Three times it involved a name that forever will have the Husky faithful rolling their eyes when mentioned: Sarkisian. He got sacked. He got beat. He left town.

There’s also been the showdown, the payback, the redemption, the debut, the shocking flag, the halftime reward and the kid. Who or what will be Saturday’s disruptor?

Steve Sarkisian is just a distant memory. He’ll be 2,500 miles away in Atlanta, serving as an NFL offensive coordinator trying to rebuild a coaching career that started to slip in Seattle with his lack of a long-term commitment mixed with personal demons. Happy hour near the UW was never the same again once he left town. Sarkisian remains the only Huskies football coach in the past 62 seasons to willingly exit Montlake for another coaching position, using the job as a stepping stone to land at USC rather than as a legacy-builder.

Before Chris Petersen’s football team takes on its second heady Utah opponent in three weeks, here’s a recap of the strange and ironic surrounding the nine previous UW-BYU encounters:

1985, BYU 31, UW 3—After the Cougars and Huskies finished 1-2 in the national polls the season before, they met in Provo to see if the voters got it right. Yes, they did. The Huskies suffered a huge embarrassment, though normally pass-happy BYU didn’t have a touchdown reception for the first time in 38 outings. UW coach Don James said this was his worst defeat ever with quality players. The hometown team rightfully gloated, with Cougars cornerback Jeff Spowls bellowing, “Welcome to the WAC, Washington. This was our national championship game and we crushed the Huskies!”

1986, UW 52, BYU 21—A year later in Seattle, the Huskies repaid the favor with their own blowout. Chris Chandler threw four touchdowns. The defense came up with 10 sacks, four by Steve Roberts. James felt much better about the outcome, saying, “We were trying to get BYU to respect our program.”

1996, UW 29, BYU 17—Sarkisian was the Cougars’ starting quarterback and a marked man. The Huskies sacked him eight times. He showed off his passing skills in Seattle by completing 23 of 35 attempts for 279 yards and two scores, but he was no match for a team built around the 1-2 rushing punch of Rashaan Shehee and Corey Dillon. “Any time you’re behind, you’re going to feel the heat,” said Sarkisian, who probably never wanted to see Husky Stadium again but would call it home 13 years later.

1997, UW 42, BYU 20—Shehee was finally healthy after hurting his foot by jumping off a balcony at a college party, an incident that UW coach Jim Lambright tried to keep under wraps for several months only to have it made public and lead to red faces. In Provo, the shifty back ran for 171 yards running behind future NFL players Benji Olson and Olin Kreutz, saying, “They’re All-Americans for a reason.”

1998, UW 20, BYU 10—This was the closest that one of the series matchups came to being an uneventful game. No tension, no baggage, no distractions. Just the Huskies’ Toure Butler putting on a long-distance show in Seattle, returning a fumble 65 yards and a kickoff 98 yards for touchdowns.

1999, BYU 35, UW 28—This game took a decided backseat to one man’s new employment opportunity: Rick Neuheisel’s Husky coaching debut. He lost. His secondary got lit up for 500 yards passing. He got beat on a 38-yard TD pass with 1:16 left to play to walk-on wide receiver Chris Hale, son of the BYU athletic director.

2008, BYU 28, UW 27—No Husky game has had a stranger ending. Quarterback Jake Locker heroically drove his team 76 yards for a touchdown, scoring it himself on a 3-yard run with a scant two seconds left. In his exuberance, however, he flipped the ball into the air just a little too high and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty—yes, in Seattle. Kicker Ryan Perkins was left with a 35-yard extra-point try to tie the game and it was blocked. Game over. Actually, season over. The Tyrone Willingham-coached UW team bottomed out and finished 0-12. The Huskies were so bad the BYU game and the Apple Cup (a 16-13 WSU 2-OT victory) were the only outings that weren’t one-sided.

2010, BYU 23, UW 17—Sarkisian was in his second season as Huskies coach and Willingham’s replacement when he faced his alma mater with all kinds of background noise. In Provo, Sarkisian was honored at halftime as one of the Cougars’ eight greatest quarterbacks. The coach had joked earlier in the week that he would come out and take part in the ceremony only if his team was up by three touchdowns at the break—it led just 17-13 and he stayed inside. It didn’t matter. In the end, BYU freshman quarterback Jake Heaps from the Seattle area came off the bench and spoiled the moment for him, leading the home team to a late victory.

2013, UW 31 BYU 16—Three weeks after Sarkisian bolted for the USC coaching job, the Huskies won the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco without him. Players were outwardly angry with their coach for jilting them for another conference program. They talked about how he offered to meet with any upset players in his office and the next thing they saw was Sarkisian zipping out of the athletic facilities in his courtesy car. See you later. The players took their coaching direction from Marques Tuiasosopo, the former UW quarterback and a Sark assistant who would follow him to Los Angeles, and beat the Cougars on their own.

2018, UW-BYU—What extra stuff could possibly happen this weekend?