Let’s get to know UA’s Week One opponent.
The last time the Arizona Wildcats faced the BYU Cougars was in 2016 for the Cactus Kickoff in Glendale, Arizona. If you don’t remember this game it’s probably because you flushed everything about that season except for the final game when Arizona beat ASU 56-35 without attempting a pass in the second half.
BYU won 18-16 on a Jake Oldroyd 33-yard game-winning field with four seconds left on the clock. That matchup was unexpectedly low scoring and pretty uneven until the final 90 seconds, which featured two lead changes.
The Cougars went on to finish 9-4 that season but suffered a setback in 2017.
1. Returning Starters: 7 offensive, 7 defensive
2. 2017 Record: 4-9
3. Head coach: Kalani Sitake (13-13 overall, third season)
The following metrics are courtesy of Bill Connelly of SB Nation and Football Outsiders. You can read more about the rankings and theory behind them here.
· 2017 S&P+ Overall: 101st
· 2017 S&P+ Offense: 121st
· 2017 S&P+ Defense: 45th
· 2018 S&P+ Projection: 76th
· 2018 Project Record: 5-7
The Cougars took a significant step back in 2017, which was largely to do with a lack of offensive production. They averaged only 17.1 points per game, which ranked 124th in the FBS.
In their first four games, they scored a total of 39 points and 20 came in the season opener against Portland State. BYU played LSU, Utah and Wisconsin in the next three games and managed to score only 19 combined points.
Defensively speaking, BYU was respectable as they finished 45th in the S&P+ defensive rankings. Most of that ranking is contributed to their strong performance against the run where they finished 32nd in the Rushing S&P+ rankings. As a unit, they faced 520 rushing attempts which was good for 19th most in the FBS. They held their opponents to an average of 3.7 yards per attempt.
The silver lining to last season is they won three of their last five games. However, they were 1-7 when they reached that point.
Ty Detmer is out as offensive coordinator and Jeff Grimes is in. Grimes was the offensive line coach for the Cougars from 2004-2006. Since that time, he’s spent the majority of his seasons in the SEC where he coached the O-line for Auburn (2009-2012) and LSU (2014-2017).
Grimes inherits offense with key returning production. Assuming quarterback Tanner Mangum is fully healed from his Achilles injury, he will share the backfield with fellow senior, Squally Canada. The Cougars also return their top three receiving leaders in Matt Bushman, Aleva Hifo and Micah Simon. Those three accounted for 49.6% and 53.1% of the team’s receptions and receiving yards, respectively.
Hawaii graduate transfer Dylan Collie is expected to be a major contributor as he hauled in 56 receptions for 636 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Another transfer that will help bolster the offense is former four-star recruit and Notre Dame lineman Tristen Hoge.
It appears defensive coordinator Isaisa Tuiki’s unit will once again be the strong suit of the team. There will be a handful of returning talented and experienced players, especially within the front seven. Seniors Corbin Kaufusi and Sione Takitaki return as the team’s top two pass rushers.
You will notice familiar faces in new places, though. Former safety Zayne Anderson has moved to outside linebacker and former cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku has moved to safety.
Three Players to Watch
1. Tanner Mangum, QB
The senior quarterback has plenty of experience during his time at BYU. However, he is working back from an Achilles injury sustained in November. Mangum is expected to be back in time for their trip to Tucson as he was cleared for contact drills in April.
Mangum is competing with freshman Zach Wilson for the starting job. Mangum was 147-for-257 for 1,540 yards, eight touchdowns, and nine interceptions last season.
2. Squally Canada, RB
Canada was team’s leading rusher last season with 710 yards on 120 carries. He’s not used as much of a pass-catching back but you can likely expect an increased workload, as the offense should improve. If this improvement comes to fruition, it’s probable the Cougars won’t be playing from behind as much which will allow more ground work for Canada.
3. Sione Takitaki, LB
The team’s leading returning tackler from a year ago with 79. Takitaki saw ample playing time last season as he appeared in all 13 games for the first time in his collegiate career. As mentioned earlier, Takitaki is an edge rushing outside linebacker, who has 11.5 career sacks and will likely add several more this year. He could cause some trouble for an Arizona o-line that will be without starting left tackle Layth Friekh for the first two games of the year.