BYU entered the game against Arizona as underdogs, unsure about the starting quarterback, the new offense, and player personnel.
Last year, BYU could not compete with power five competition. The Cougars finished 2017 with a record of 4-9 after a dismal offensive season. Head coach Kalani Sitake brought in Jeff Grimes as the new offensive coordinator. Grimes promised an exciting offense in his opening press conference, and his offense did not disappoint in the Cougars’ victory.
The Cougars beat the Wildcats 28-23, and many players contributed to the win. Squally Canada scored the first points of the 2018 season for BYU. Arizona answered by scoring the next 10 points in the game, and the Cougars went into halftime trailing.
In the second half, the Cougars contained Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate.
Tate is thought to be one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country and a legitimate Heisman candidate. Tate rushed 14 yards on eight carries. It was the lowest rushing output by Tate in his starting career. He also completed 17 of 34 passes for 197 yards with a touchdown.
Kalani Sitake said he was pleased with how well the team contained Tate.
“I think the game plan that the defensive staff had was really good. There were some things that we were doing to try to keep them guessing on a lot of stuff and keep them contained, which meant we couldn’t just tee off and try to come after him and apply pressure. He’s a guy that can make someone miss, and it’ll cost you,” Coach Sitake said.
Linebackers Sione Takitaki and Zayne Anderson contained Tate throughout the game. The defensive line put enough pressure on Tate to support the defensive backs. Corbin Kaufusi flew all over the field tied as the leading tackler for the Cougars along with Butch Pau’u.
Sitake expressed in the post-game press conference that the staff “took a lot of chances” on the defensive side of the ball, adding that he thought the Cougars played aggressively and contained the Heisman candidate exceptionally well.
Coming out of halftime, starting quarterback Tanner Mangum came alive, throwing passes all over the field.
In 2017, Mangum suffered some physical injuries. He sprained his ankle at the beginning of the season. On Nov. 4, Mangum’s junior season ended against Fresno State when he injured his Achilles tendon which required surgery, becoming the sixth time in eight years and fourth year in a row that BYU’s season-opening starter suffered a season-ending injury.
Despite Mangum’s past injuries, he completed 18 of 28 passes for 202 yards with one touchdown against the Wildcats.
Dylan Collie, Dallin Holker, Matt Bushman, Neil Pau’u, Micah Simon, Moroni Laulu-Pututau, and Aleva Hifo all pulled down passes in the third quarter. Ten different Cougars caught passes in the game.
The Cougars outscored the Wildcats 21-0 in the third quarter. The defense caused Arizona to go three and out multiple times to start out the third quarter.
Mangum looked off the defenders and threw a pass to Bushman in the end zone — one of the Cougars’ three touchdowns in their three red zone visits.
In the fourth quarter, Arizona began to pick apart the defense. In the first half, the Cougars’ defense gave up a few long drives, and the fourth quarter appeared to be the same.
Arizona answered back with two touchdowns, cutting the Cougars’ lead to five with just over three minutes left to play.
The Cougars came into the game as double-digit underdogs. And although Arizona made a strong push in the fourth quarter, the Cougars brought home a victory over a power five opponent.
This was the first game Canada scored three touchdowns — running a total of 98 yards — and the first time Laulu-Pututau caught a pass since 2016. Holker joined the ranks of firsts when he caught his first collegiate pass.
Apart from a few firsts, Grimes proved his offense is much improved from that of last season. The Cougars also proved they can compete with power five competition and control games late.
After the game, Sitake expressed his excitement for the victory and the ability the Cougars had to close the game.
“We’ve been thinking about this for a long time now, so we’re really happy with the team and the ability to get the win and, especially at the end, winning it on our O-line’s back,” Sitake said.
In the past, the Cougars have relied on a strong offensive line. When it counted, the offensive line moved the defense and cleared space for Canada and running back Lopini Katoa, closing the game.
The Cougars will take on the University of California Berkeley on Sept. 8 at LaVell Edwards Stadium.