It was in many ways a season of change for both Arizona and BYU this year. The former swapped out coaching staffs completely while the latter re-tooled and notably hired a new offensive coordinator. We’re just one week into the young season so it can be easy to overreact but it sure seems like the Cougars have figured a few things out while the Wildcats are back at the drawing board.
Following a slow start on both sides early, BYU exploded out of the locker room and scored three straight touchdowns to begin the second half before holding off a late charge from Arizona on Saturday night to win 28-23 and ruin the debut of Kevin Sumlin down in Tucson.
Veteran quarterback Tanner Mangum threw for 209 yards and a touchdown as the Cougars looked vastly better on the offensive end after having one of the worst seasons in school history on that side of the ball. The senior completed nine straight passes at one point during the team’s second half outburst and he effectively spread the ball around to 10 different receivers in the game. His ability to go downfield helped open things up in the run game as BYU’s offensive line started to really open up some running lanes for Squally Canada, who finished with 98 yards on the ground and managed three trips to the end zone.
The defense was also a factor for the visitors, as they applied plenty of pressure and did a good job at the line of scrimmage too. Though there was only one sack for BYU, the team forced four hurries and generally kept Khalil Tate bottled up.
Speaking of the Arizona quarterback, one of the preseason Heisman favorites looked almost handcuffed in Sumlin’s new offense and failed to get much of anything going — certainly not any of the dazzling long runs we became used to last year. He finished with 197 yards and a touchdown through the air and hardly called his number on the ground either with just 14 yards on only eight carries. JJ Taylor broke off a handful of runs and recorded 85 yards rushing (plus a score) but the entire unit never did seem to click and averaged under five yards a play.
The performance is sure to elicit some grumbling out of the Wildcats fan base, who had high hopes coming into 2018 with Sumlin taking over the program but had to wonder what the coaching staff has been doing the past few months after keeping their playmaker in the pocket launching passes down field without much accuracy. Sustaining drives was a real issue in the game until the final few minutes and the schedule doesn’t get much easier either with a trip to Houston to face Ed Oliver looming for the team.
It was an encouraging game for BYU however, as the team looked much improved on both sides of the ball and perhaps far more capable of handling the tough upcoming slate better than expected. The defense can hang their hat on containing one of the game’s top quarterback and the offense looked surprisingly potent with a few new weapons. It’s cause for celebration in Provo deep into the night and cause for lament at Arizona as the Cougars leave town with a win.