BYU handed its first-time head coach a thrilling comeback victory. Here's an analysis of how it all went down and some "snap judgments" on the performance. The numbers don't lie.
BYU's offense — one thumb up
BYU administered "death by a thousand paper cuts" to the Arizona defense as BYU's offense nickeled and dimed its way down the field. Two key components in measuring the effectiveness of an offense are efficiency and explosiveness. BYU's offense was certainly efficient but definitely not explosive.
BYU played keep-away from Arizona's explosive offense, running 76 plays compared to Arizona's 56. BYU's offense also held the ball 62 percent of the time. BYU kept drives alive, moving the chains by converting an impressive 50 percent of its third and fourth down attempts. BYU only had one three-and-out drive, but it occurred at a key point when BYU had a chance to ice the game. Nevertheless, the offense redeemed itself with a nice drive leading to the game-winning field goal. Moroni Laulu-Pututau bounced back from dropping a couple of key passes to make a pivotal catch and run on that drive. While BYU racked up yardage, it did not translate into points, which is something the coaching staff will need to work on as the schedule gets tougher.
BYU's new pro-style offense teased Arizona's defense with multiple formations and kept it off- alance (over 200 yards each rushing and passing). BYU ran core West Coast offense pass concepts (slants, bootlegs, crosses, curls, etc.) and executed them from a variety of looks.
In the pass game, Taysom Hill completed an extremely accurate 72 percent of his passes. He threw for a respectable 7 yards per pass attempt. His pass efficiency rating was also a respectable 142.3. Explosiveness was lacking, however, as BYU's longest pass completion went for just 19 yards.
Given Arizona's speed on the edges, it appears offensive coordinator Ty Detmer's game plan was to focus on quick, short throws. The plan worked as Taysom Hill was sacked just once for a 5-yard loss and he was not hurried on any throws by Arizona's pressure. Hunter Marshall was a beneficiary of the short-and-sweet passing plan as he emerged as a receiving threat at tight end, especially on the bootleg.
BYU ran the ball 62 percent of the time for a solid 4.5 yards per carry. Jamal Williams was obviously the biggest contributor, gaining 162 yards at a very impressive clip of 5.6 yards per carry. Taysom Hill looked surprisingly slow and tentative when running the ball, but he was effective enough as he made a couple of key drive-sustaining runs. Looking at the numbers, the offensive line did its job in the run game against an undersized but athletic defense, although the left side of the line definitely looks like it needs some work as Jamal Williams made a lot of his yards after contact on that side.
The offense executed its game plan of winning the time of possession to keep Arizona's offense off the field. For that it gets a thumb up. But the offense would have needed to come up with a lot more than 18 points (not to mention avoiding sloppy penalties and poor clock management in the clutch) to get two thumbs up.
BYU's defense — two thumbs up
The BYU defense played as advertised. It was aggressive, making big plays and giving up big plays. Fortunately, the defense made way more big plays than it gave up.
BYU allowed 115 yards on the ground at 4.4 yards per carry, but that number is skewed a little. If you take out the 49-yard touchdown run by Arizona's Nick Wilson in the fourth quarter, BYU held Arizona to just 66 yards rushing for 2.6 yards per carry. However, BYU's defense did struggle more against the run in the second half and did not look as well-conditioned as Bronco's defenses in the fourth quarter.
BYU's pass defense was stellar, limiting Arizona's quarterback Anu Solomon to a paltry 113 pass rating. Picking off two passes helped. Arizona did average a solid but not spectacular 7.1 yards per pass attempt, however. BYU was able to apply pressure, recording four sacks, although they didn't have any quarterback hurries.
BYU's defense did a good job of getting Arizona's "go-fast, go-hard" offense off the field as Arizona converted just 39 percent of its third-down attempts. The defense also managed to get into the backfield against a decent offensive line, recording eight tackles for a total loss of 39 yards.
The defensive effort was impressive considering the explosive potential of Arizona's offense. Consider also that starting corner Troy Warner, who looked impressive, left early with a hamstring injury. The fill-ins played admirably. The defensive line seemed to wear down as the game went on, but that could be just because the defensive philosophy seemed less aggressive when BYU was protecting the lead late in the game. The linebackers appear to be the strength of the defense, with all three starting linebackers littering the stat sheet (all three were in the top five of the individual defensive statistics categories).
While an argument could be made the defense gets only one thumb up because it couldn't protect the lead in the fourth quarter, looking at the entire body of work, giving up 16 points to an offense that usually scores more than double that deserves two thumbs up.
BYU's special teams — one thumb up
Matt Hadley's 29-yard kickoff return was crucial in setting up BYU's offense for the game-winning drive and Jake "the Make" Oldroyd shocked BYU fans, who knew how dire BYU's kicking situation was, by coming out of nowhere to nail the game-winning kick. Oldroyd was also clearly the best of the kickoff kickers throughout the night.
Garrett Juergens made a nice 27-yard punt return. The coverage units were great, limiting Arizona to just six yards on one punt return (the other five punts were unreturnable, including two downed within the five yard line) and just 22 yards per kick return. For all of that, BYU deserves at least one thumb up on special teams.
However, the missed extra point almost cost BYU the game and the 24-yard field goal was as ugly as they get. Some of the kickoffs were woefully short. Jonah Trinnaman's decision to bring the ball out of the end zone for a 13-yard return also earned him a benching. Overall, the special teams unit looked solid but more than anything the missed extra point keeps it from earning two thumbs up.
This was a hard-fought first victory for BYU head coach Sitake. He and his coaching staff put together a solid game plan and you could tell the players are responding to his coaching. It was an exciting and entertaining game despite the low score. While there is much to learn and correct after this game, it is better to evaluate what adjustments need to be made after a close win rather than a close loss. Sitake wants to follow the same coaching model as LaVell Edwards. He's off to a good start. Edwards' teams also seemed to struggle a little in first games as they worked out the kinks. And as Edwards has said, the biggest improvement comes between the first and second games. With Utah up next, Cougar fans hope that sentiment holds true.