TUCSON, Arizona — Since he was hired last December, everybody in Provo has been wondering what to expect from BYU’s new-look offense under first-year offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes.
Well, in Grimes’s debut as the play-caller, the Cougars wielded a balanced attack, controlled the clock and took big strides — a year after the BYU offense plummeted to historic lows.
Running back Squally Canada ran for 98 yards and scored three touchdowns while quarterback Tanner Mangum completed 18 of 28 passes for 209 yards and a TD as BYU held on to upset Arizona, 28-23, in the season-opener Saturday night.
“Anytime you can get a win, on the road against a Pac-12 team, it’s good for us," said coach Kalani Sitake. "This team believes in each other, it believes in the coaches.”
It took the Cougars 12 quarters to score 28 points last season. BYU exploded for 21 points in the third quarter alone Saturday night.
“I feel confident and I feel good about where I am and where we’re going as an offense," Mangum said. "I want to enjoy that with this team. Anytime you can get a win, it feels good.”
The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and the offense held to the ball for 36 minutes, compared to 23 minutes for Arizona.
“It’s important to establish the run game," Sitake said. "Squally and the O-line did that.”
BYU didn't allow any sacks and didn't give up any turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Cougar defense corralled Heisman Trophy candidate Khalil Tate, who rushed eight times for 14 yards and completed 17 of 34 passes for 197 yards in coach Kevin Sumlin's inaugural game as Arizona's head coach.
“We had to play it smart and not let Khalil Tate get loose," Sitake said.
BYU finished with 392 yards of total offense compared to 326 for the Wildcats. Mangum completed passes to 10 different receivers while six different players besides Mangum ran the ball. The Cougars ended up with 183 yards on the ground.
“This was a much-needed win and a morale boost," said offensive lineman Thomas Shoaf. "(Grimes) brought a lot of energy and positive reinforcement to the guys. It was fun.”
Trailing 10-7 at halftime, BYU recaptured the lead on its first series of the second half.
The key play occurred on third-and-12 from the Arizona 46, when Dylan Collie made an acrobatic catch after Mangum’s pass was knocked into the air, and he came down with the ball at the Arizona 24-yard line — a 22-yard completion from Mangum.
“It didn’t surprise me one bit," Mangum said of Collie's key reception. "Dylan’s a great player. That propelled us into the red zone."
One play later, Mangum hit tight end Matt Bushman on a 24-yard touchdown pass, and the Cougars led 14-10. The drive took 10 plays, covered 75 yards and chewed 6:35 off the clock.
“We’re able to rally from some adversity being down at halftime," Sitake said. “In the second half, being able to establish the run game was good for us.”
But BYU wasn’t done.
After the Cougars forced an Arizona punt, Mangum led another scoring drive with a good balance of passing and running. Freshman tight end Dallin Holker caught a 14-yard pass to the Wildcat 1-yard line, then Canada scored his second touchdown of the night on a one-yard run.
That put BYU ahead 21-10 with 4:29 left in the third quarter.
While the Cougar defense continued to contain Tate, a 37-yard punt return by BYU’s Michael Shelton set up another score — Canada’s third rushing touchdown of the night with 1:07 remaining in the third period — making it 28-10.
Early in the fourth quarter, Tate scored on a two-yard run to cut the deficit to 28-17.
J.J. Taylor added another Arizona touchdown with 3:20 remaining and BYU led 28-23.
From there, the Cougars leaned on Canada to seal the victory on their final series before the clock ran out.
Arizona received the opening kickoff and moved to the BYU 24-yard line on short runs and throws. But the Wildcats’ Lucas Havrisik’s 43-yard field goal attempt missed thanks to Shelton, who got a hand on the kick. It was his first career block.
BYU was forced to punt on its first series, and Arizona drove again into BYU territory before Tate was sacked by Corbin Kaufusi and the Wildcats had to punt.
The Cougars’ second series found new life on a 30-yard completion from Mangum to Aleva Hifo on third-and-10 to the Arizona 7-yard line. The drive culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by Canada to put BYU up 7-0 with 9:58 left in the second quarter.
The Wildcats responded with a drive that stalled at the Cougar 6-yard line but ended with a 24-yard field goal to make it 7-3 for BYU.174 comments on this story
Arizona’s final drive of the half was aided by Cougar penalties, including a pass interference and an illegal substitution. But the one that proved the most costly was a late hit personal foul penalty by Kaufusi on fourth-and-2. That put the ball at the BYU 28-yard line and a couple of plays later, Tate connected with Tony Ellison on a 15-yard touchdown pass to propel the Wildcats to their first lead, 10-7, with 50 seconds left in the first half.
Arizona led by that score at intermission.
NOTES: Attendance at Arizona Stadium was 51,002. … The Wildcats’ streak of 17 straight victories in home openers came to an end.