Pre-snap read: Cougars and Wildcats should entertain
Prediction: BYU 31, Arizona 30
BYU and the University of Arizona will battle on a "neutral" field in Glendale, Arizona, in the home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals on Saturday, Sept. 3. Here is a breakdown of the matchups.
When BYU has the ball
BYU could not have asked for a better matchup to break in first-time offensive coordinator Ty Detmer. Arizona ranked 109th in overall defense in the advanced statistical S&P+ rankings last year. Of course, that was last year.
Because of that poor performance, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez fired his longtime defensive coordinator and, along with it, dumped a unique 3-3-5 defensive scheme. A big part of Arizona's struggles last year on defense can be attributed to a rash of injuries that left Arizona bereft of defensive playmakers. Rodriguez brought in Boise State's defensive coordinator, Marcel Yates, to try to right the ship this year.
Yates brings with him an aggressive, attacking scheme that was effective in Boise. A big question mark for Arizona is whether they have the talent on defense to run this scheme.
The front seven appears to be well below average (especially with All-American Scooby Wright III now gone), although it is hard to tell how they will do this year as there is a lot of inexperienced potential on the roster.
Arizona was particularly putrid against the pass last year. The pass rush was anemic and, as a result, the secondary gave up a ton of big plays. A silver lining for Arizona is they have an experienced secondary returning and they recruited some highly regarded players there as well. Still, with Arizona playing more aggressively this year, it seems primed to give up a lot of big plays again.
Last year, offenses not only exploited Arizona's defense with explosive plays, but they were efficient against Arizona as well. With a more aggressive approach this year, Arizona may force BYU to be a little less efficient in moving the ball methodically down the field. However, the potential for big plays remains.
The jury is still out on how good BYU's offensive line is. Fortunately, this should be one of the easier matchups BYU's offensive line will face during the first part of its tough schedule.
BYU certainly has playmakers in Taysom Hill, Jamal Williams and Nick Kurtz, although no one knows for sure how much Kurtz will be able to play. Wide receiver Jonah Trinnaman certainly appears capable of taking the lid off of Arizona's defense, but it remains to be seen whether his hands can be trusted.
The BYU offense versus Arizona defense battle will be the most intriguing matchup to watch with both schools implementing entirely new schemes. Neither team is entirely sure what the other will do.
When Arizona has the ball
Although Rich Rodriguez arguably invented the run-first spread, he now runs a pass-first offense with a running quarterback in Anu Solomon, who had to battle Brandon Dawkins to keep his starting job in fall camp. Solomon is the better passer and Dawkins the better runner.
Last year, Arizona was not very efficient on offense. It struggled on first and second downs, making for a lot of third and long situations. Against weaker defenses, Arizona was able to convert in those situations but struggled to convert against higher-quality opponents.
At times, Arizona flashed big-play explosiveness but was wildly inconsistent. Additionally, Arizona lost two of its better playmakers from last year (a receiver and a running back). At receiver, Arizona lost three of its top four targets.
Still, Arizona's offense should be explosive at times and perhaps even a little more efficient this year. Arizona's success will largely depend on the play of its offensive line, which does a decent job of keeping defenders out of the backfield, although they certainly are not going to bulldoze over anyone. Much like BYU's offensive line, Arizona returns five starters with experience, but depth is a concern.
BYU's new approach to defense will be put to the test in this one. With BYU playing more aggressively, Arizona will likely get its fair share of big plays. Paradoxically, BYU's strength on defense this year appears to be its secondary, so it is hard to predict. However, it will not matter how good the secondary is if the front seven cannot get a push on the quarterback.
A major concern is that the University of Utah has struggled mightily against Arizona's offensive scheme the last few years. Of course, BYU's defensive philosophy is expected to be similar to Utah's.
When the ball is kicked
Arizona has an average special teams unit overall. Arizona's kickoff and punt numbers were below average last year, but its field goal efficiency was one of the best in the nation. However, Arizona lost its excellent place-kicker from last year. The kick and punt return units are truly feast or famine. For every huge return, those units had a bunch of dreadfully small returns.
BYU's special teams unit is also average, but the biggest concern is at kicker as none of the dueling candidates clearly stood out in fall camp.