LAS VEGAS—New coach, same result. But not really.
The much-anticipated beginning of the Jedd Fisch produced another unfortunate outcome, with the Arizona Wildcats falling 24-16 to BYU on Saturday night in Las Vegas. It was the UA’s 13th consecutive loss, extending their school-record losing streak and the longest active skid in FBS.
But unlike many of the previous 12 setbacks under Kevin Sumlin, the UA showed flashes of being a team that could be competitive down the line. Maybe a lot sooner than expected.
Arizona’s defense, which had yielded 40.2 points per game during the prior dozen outings, looked like a completely different unit outside of a few busted plays and was key to getting the UA back into the game after it trailed 21-3 midway through the second half. The Wildcats recorded eight tackles for loss, a sack and four pass breakups as well as a safety, holding BYU to 368 yards.
The offense, however, showed it still has a ways to go despite outgaining the Cougars.
Gunner Cruz, who started and played in every series—Will Plummer was on the field for nine snaps in his lone series—was 34 of 45 for 336 with a touchdown and an interception. But he was also sacked four times, including twice in the red zone where Arizona managed just six points in four trips.
Lucas Havrisik missed two of four field goals, as the UA has managed only 14 TDs and 11 field goals in 34 red zone possessions during the losing streak.
Arizona ran for 129 yards when not counting sack yardage, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, with Michael Wiley gaining 64 on 15 carries while adding six catches for 66 yards.
An announced crowd of 54,541 at Allegiant Stadium—the vast majority wearing BYU’s shade of blue—saw Arizona’s defense show just how much it’s improved under Don Brown at the outset, holding BYU to a nice 69 yards in the first quarter. It couldn’t keep that going in the second quarter, though, as the Cougars used a fourth-and-long conversion near midfield to fuel a 73-yard scoring drive capped by Tyler Allegier’s 15-yard TD run.
BYU muffed the extra point, though, leading 6-0 with 9:17 left in the first half.
The UA followed that with its best drive of the game to that point, going 61 yards to get into the red zone, but after stalling had to settle for a 32-yard field goal attempt that Havrisik pushed right. Five plays later, Jaren Hall fired deep for a 67-yard TD pass to Neil Pau’u as he got behind nickel corner Malik Hausman as Arizona blitzed on third down.
The Wildcats managed to score just before the half, though only three on a 28-yard Havrisik field goal with 13 seconds remaining. Cruz was 6 of 7 for 62 yards on the drive and scrambled for a first down with a nice juke in the open field, but he took a sack inside the red zone and a potential TD pass to Stanley Berryhill III was caught out of bounds two plays before the field goal.
Berryhill was Arizona’s leading receiver, much like all of last year, finishing with 12 catches for 102 yards.
Arizona got the ball to start the second half and quickly got across midfield before stalling again. A flea flicker resulted in a throwaway on second down then Cruz was sacked on third down, forcing another punt. BYU followed that up with a backbreaking 80-yard TD drive, one that included UA linebacker Jerry Roberts whiffing on a potential sack of Hall that resulted in a 39-yard gain as well as a face mask penalty on Jaxen Turner just prior to a 6-yard Pau’u TD catch to make it 21-3 with 7:28 left in the third.
The Wildcats got into BYU territory for the fourth straight time, getting inside the 30 for the third time, only to have Cruz sacked yet again on third down. The Cougars brought the house against an empty backfield and BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar came right up the middle for an 11-yard loss.
But things began to turn for Arizona on, of all things, a punt. Kyle Ostendorp, a surprise winner over Tyler Loop for the starting job, pinned BYU at its own 1-yard line, and after Christian Roland-Wallace broke up a long pass on first down Trevon Mason blew up the backfield and enabled Rashie Hodge Jr. to tackle Lopini Katoa in the end zone for a safety to make it 21-5.
Tayvian Cunningham then hurdled a Cougar on the free kick return, starting Arizona in plus territory. Cruz followed with three straight completions, the third to BJ Casteel for a 29-yard TD pass with 2 minutes left in the third quarter. Casteel caught a 2-point pass just inside the front corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 21-13.
BYU went 3-and-out, and Arizona went from its own 21 to within the Cougars’ 10 before succumbing to its red zone tendencies. Cruz was sacked for the fourth time, then Havrisik missed just wide right from 44 yards out with 11:42 to go.
The Cougars got a 40-yard field goal from Justen Smith to make it 24-13 with 7:34 left. Arizona drove to the 35 before Cruz overthrew a deep ball and it was picked off by BYU’s Hayden Livingston with 5:54 to go.
Havrisik connected from 37 yards with 49 seconds to go, pulling the Wildcats within eight, but they couldn’t recover the onside kick.
The UA will play its home opener next Saturday at 7 p.m. MST against San Diego State. The Aztecs beat New Mexico State 28-10 at home after trailing 10-0 at the half.