The Arizona Wildcats off the 2018 football season Saturday night against the BYU Cougars.
BYU limped to a 4-9 finish last season, but there is still plenty of talent on the opposite side of the ‘Cats this weekend. Here are five key BYU players to watch.
Tanner Mangum, QB
Mangum’s first college game was the Hail Mary game where BYU stunned Nebraska, which was also Mike Riley’s first game in charge of the Huskers (yes, Mangum’s been in college that long). Since then, he’s gone from late-game hero, to backup for Taysom Hill, to injury-plagued leader. Despite that, Mangum goes into 2018 a senior captain of a team many think he can redeem.
Last season was BYU’s worst since 1970, two years before LaVell Edwards took over the program. There were many reasons for the sudden implosion, but injuries surely played a key role. Mangum first injured his ankle in the rivalry with Utah in September, and then was lost for the season with an Achilles injury against Fresno State in November. BYU with Mangum didn’t exactly inspire confidence, and there were many more injuries to other offensive contributors, but it does show that this team was unstable last year. If there’s one thing that projects stability, it’s a 24-year old senior who’s contributed to the offense for four years starting at QB.
It’ll be interesting to see if Mangum can bring back some of his magic from 2015, especially since he’s returning from a major injury. Either way, it’ll be fascinating to see him lead the Cougars on Saturday.
Squally Canada, HB
Speaking of senior leaders, Mangum’s backfield partner also happens to be a key part of this BYU squad. Canada was a four-star running back out of high school, and he initially committed to Washington State. After 2014, Canada decided to transfer to Provo, and he’s spent the last three seasons slowly but surely improving.
Canada redshirted in 2015, and saw relatively little action in 2016 as a sophomore. In 2017, Canada was behind KJ Hall and Ula Tolutau on the depth chart and still saw limited playing time, before injuries had sidelined both by the end of the season. Once he saw the field, Canada became a rare bright spot for the 2017 Cougars. He managed 710 yards despite only starting for a few games, and managed to maintain an impressive 6 yards per carry.
Now, Canada is a senior who will be BYU’s feature back. He’s shown that he’s quite a capable back and could be key to BYU turning around their fortunes after last season.
Matt Bushman, TE
In contrast to Mangum and Canada, Matt Bushman enters the 2018 campaign a sophomore. The Tucson native was one of BYU’s only trustworthy weapons last year, and the fact that he did it as a freshman means he is primed to become a dangerous leader of this team.
While he may be a sophomore, Bushman committed to BYU in 2014; he spent 2015 and 2016 on a mission. After returning, Bushman quickly took over as a power both blocking and receiving. He recorded 520 yards in an anemic offense, and continued to produce even after injuries decimated BYU.
It’s worth noting that he apparently had a disappointing offseason and is now facing pressure from below on the depth chart. That being said, Bushman is starting against Arizona, his hometown team, and should be vital for both protecting Mangum and being a receiving weapon.
Corbin Kaufusi, DE
Kaufusi has BYU in his DNA. His father Steve was a BYU defensive lineman and spent three years playing for the Eagles. Steve was also BYU’s defensive line coach up until January 2018. Corbin’s brother Bronson Kaufusi was a four-year contributor at defensive end for BYU, having a monster senior season with 64 tackles. Bronson Kaufusi now plays for the Baltimore Ravens, and it’s Corbin’s turn to lead the BYU defense.
Kaufusi played in every game his sophomore season in 2016, nocking 31 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Last year, Kaufusi’s numbers leaped to 67 tackles and 6 sacks. Now, he’s one of the best players on a fearsome defensive front. Despite the team’s struggles last season, BYU still had a pretty solid defense, and many of it’s contributors are returning, especially up front. Kaufusi is an NFL prospect with deep BYU ties who’s ready to prove the Cougars defense is a force to be reckoned with. He will undoubtedly help determine the outcome of Saturday’s matchup.
Butch Pau’u, LB
Butch Pau’u came out of high school in 2012. He redshirted in 2012, then went on his mission for the school. Since he’s returned in 2015, he’s been a key piece of a dominating defnese. Pau’u is ready to make his mark yet again in his senior season.
Pau’u didn’t truly become a key piece of this defense until 2016, when he recorded 83 tackles, a sack and a half, an interception, AND a forced fumble, all in ten games. Pau’u was the defense’s anchor in 2017, and while his numbers took a dip, he still commanded respect with 74 tackles. Pau’u has put in a lot of work for this season, slimming himself down in hopes to make himself faster. If he terrorize’s Arizona’s offense like he can, BYU’s chances of victory will go way up.
Arizona and BYU face off at 7:45 p.m. MST on Saturday in Tucson. You can watch the game on ESPN.