TUCSON, Ariz. — BYU put together one of its better quarters in recent history to upset Arizona on the road 28-23 on Saturday to start of the season on an encouraging note.
The Cougars trailed just 10-7 at the half, but then outscored the Wildcats 21-0 in the third quarter to build a commanding 28-10 lead heading into the final 15 minutes. The quarter featured long and effective drives by the offense and the defense holding Arizona's offense to consecutive 3-and-outs to start the half.
It was one of the better well-rounded games put forth by the Cougars, with standout plays made by both the offensive and defensive units throughout. Grades are in for each unit, in what proved a positive start to the 2018 season, particularly in light of last season's futility.
Since arriving at BYU as offensive coordinator, Jeff Grimes has preached that his offensive line needs to work as the so-called 'tip of the spear.' On Saturday we saw it in action.
The overall play from the offensive line wasn't overwhelming, but the front did manage to win most battles, particularly in the second half and to close out the win. The five upfront put forth an effective running attack throughout which opened up play-action and allowed valuable time to be chewed off the clock and otherwise imposed its will late.
Altogether it was one of the better overall line performances BYU has shown in recent memory, and quite fittingly the game ended with the line providing an eight-yard run by Squally Canada in a 3rd-and-7 situation.
Quarterback Tanner Mangum had some struggles, and ultimately finished with 18-28 passing for 209 yards, but didn't account for any interceptions thrown and didn't take a single sack. Much like everything else, Mangum proved best in the third quarter when his reads and accuracy showed just about flawless throughout.
At times early in the game and in the fourth quarter, however, he was unable to make throws that could have sealed up the win much earlier. He did spread the ball around effectively, completing passes to 10 different receivers.
Running back Squally Canada proved efficient as the lead running back, staying between the tackles throughout and accounting for 98 yards on 24 carries.
Overall the offense showed more effective than it has in some time against a Pac-12 opponent on the road. It showed both identity and effectiveness throughout with the offensive line proving to be the game MVP.
The big stat put forth by the defense was holding Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate to just 14 yards rushing on eight carries. Granted the Wildcat quarterback, who is considered a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate by several outlets, didn't look to run even close to what he did last season, but an effective scheme to limit his run opportunities certainly played as well.
Much like the offense, the defense did its best work in the second half, when it forced consecutive 3-and-outs in between three long touchdown drives by the offense.
The first half featured the defense allowing long drives, but then tightening at the end to limit the otherwise explosive Arizona offense to just 10 points scored. It again allowed too many long scoring drives late in the fourth quarter, but allowing just 23 points to an offense with the caliber of players the Wildcats have is certainly notable.
Standouts on the defense include outside linebackers Sione Takitaki and Zayne Anderson, who both played big in limiting run opportunities by Tate to the outside, and defensive end Corbin Kaufusi, who tied for the team lead in tackles (seven) which included a couple of tackles-for-a-loss. The senior also accounted for the defense's lone sack.
Defending the deep ball proved a problem in too many instances, with cornerback Chris Wilcox committing two unnecessary pass interference penalties in the first half. But overall the secondary allowed just under 200 yards passing and just a 17-34 effort from Tate.
Overall it was a solid performance, although there's certainly improvements to be made, moving forward.
It's hard to poke holes in anything done by the special teams in the win. Punter Rhett Almond didn't exactly boom his punts, but proved consistent with the Wildcats providing little to no advantage in their returns, on both kickoffs and punts.
The special teams play of the night was punt returner Michael Shelton scampering for a big 37-yarder off a punt that set up one of the team's three touchdowns in the third quarter.
The special teams battle wasn't all that significant to Saturday's outcome, but the Cougars won the overall battle and showed solid throughout.
Taking a win on the road as a double-digit underdog is a big thing for any team, but particularly for a BYU squad that was hammered throughout last season and desperately looking to turn things around. The team looked composed throughout with the relief on head coach Kalani Sitake's face proving notable, considering everything he's done to improve the overall product in the offseason.16 comments on this story
A big key to the overall play was the offense committing no turnovers, which is always a key factor, particularly on the road. There were some dumb mistakes made that need to be addressed on both sides of the ball, but overall the execution was relatively tight and effective.
The offense showed good identity throughout with the offensive line leading the way. The defense gave up some yards, but proved good enough in key moments to secure a win a big early win for a team that was in dire need of some positive momentum moving toward a brutal opening September schedule.