Saturday will mark the 23rd meeting between the BYU Cougars and the Arizona Wildcats with Arizona leading the series a 12-9-1 record. The teams have some history as the Cougars and Wildcats both joined the Western Athletic Conference in 1962, although they met on the gridiron for the first time in 1936. Arizona would only spend 16 years in the WAC before moving on to a new home, the PAC-10.
When the teams met in 1936 the game took place in Tucson with the Wildcats walking out with a win. After playing every year for 16 years while in the WAC the teams finally inked another contract in 2006. The Wildcats would win in 2006 and 2008 but the Cougars would take the game in Provo in 2007.
Provo, UT 2007 (20-7 Win)
Newcomer Max Hall, along with a strong defensive performance, led the Cougars to a season opening win over the Wildcats. Hall went 26-39 for 288 yards and two touchdowns in his first game behind center for BYU. The Cougars defense also stepped up as they pitched a shutout until Arizona scored with 53 seconds left in the game.
The Cougars started the scoring in the first quarter as Hall found running back Harvey Unga for a 27 yard touchdown. The Cougars would strike again right before halftime as Hall found Dennis Pitta for a two yard touchdown, and with the missed extra point the Cougars went into halftime with a 13-0 lead. The Cougars would extend their lead with an 11 yard Unga run in the fourth quarter. Arizona would score on a seven yard pass to provide the 20-7 final score.
Las Vegas, NV 2008 (31-21 Loss)
Austin Collie and Michael Reed put on a show in the Pioneer Las Vegas bowl, but in a losing effort. Collie had 119 yards receiving and set Cougar records for career receptions and single-season receptions. With his 11th consecutive 100-yard receiving game he tied Michael Crabtree for the single-season NCAA record for consecutive games with 100+ receiving yards. Reed had 117 yards receiving in for his first, and only 100+ yard game of the season. Max Hall completed 30-46 passes with 328 yards in the loss.
Arizona struck first on a one-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. They would add a field goal early in the second quarter to take a 10-0 lead before Harvey Unga scored from one yard out to bring BYU back to within three at the half.
BYU would take their first lead of the game on a one -yard pass from Hall to Andrew George. Arizona would take the lead back only minutes later after a 37 yard pass. Just before the end of the third quarter the Wildcats would extend their lead to 24-14 after a 24 yard touchdown pass. In the fourth quarter Arizona added another touchdown on a six-yard run. The Cougars would fight back and Hall would score on a one-yard run followed by a successful onside kick. The drive would end with a field goal attempt to bring BYU back to within seven but the kick would bounce off the uprights and the Cougars would suffer the 31-21 defeat.
The beginning of the season brings on eternal hope, or at least hope for a week or two. Even teams destined for a losing season get excited for the possibilities starting with week one. For BYU the excitement comes with an extra dose of the unknown as they are starting with a new coaching staff and new systems. This should lead to optimistic interest if nothing else.
With a new coaching staff bringing in their own systems the unknown factor becomes an issue that in most cases is a positive. BYU doubles that as they bring in new systems on offense and on defense. The Cougars will show up in Arizona with a scheme that will be difficult for the Wildcats to defend, since they don't really know what the Cougars plan on doing. If the Cougars can take advantage of the element of surprise then they can walk out with a win.
Just like the new schemes being a positive, they can also be a negative for the Cougars. The team has only had eight months to learn the new offense and defense and so the execution may not be as crisp as needed. The Cougars have the talent, the question is if the new staff will have them up to speed and ready by the season opener.
The BYU Receivers vs the Arizona Secondary will be a key match-up in this game. The Cougars will be looking to senior receivers Mitch Juergens and Nick Kurtz to provide leadership to an inexperienced receiving corp. The Cougar receivers will need to run crisp routes and play physical with a talented and improving Arizona secondary. Chances are the Cougars will be facing a weaker Arizona secondary in game one than they would if they played in week six and so Taysom Hill and the pass catchers will need to use any advantage they can as they look to make plays through the air.
The Keys to Watch
When the Wildcats have the ball:
Watch for the Wildcats to provide a big dose of Nick Wilson and Orlando Bradford in the backfield. Wilson was the work horse for the Wildcats last year until he went down with an injury. Before that moment he had racked up 725 yards on 133 carries and eight touchdowns. Bradford was used sparingly last year and in 47 carries he averaged 4.4 yards with a trio of touchdowns. The probable starting quarterback for the Wildcats will be junior Anu Solomon. Solomon played all but two games last year and completed over 62% of his passes. With 205 completions he recorded almost 2700 yards passing and held a 4/1 touchdown to interception ratio. He isn't much of a threat on the ground as he averaged only three yards a rush and netted less than 200 yards rushing for the season.
Watch for the Cougars to try and stop the run first and foremost. The Cougars will need to limit the running game if they want to walk out with a win and that will start with the front seven. The Wildcats are returning a number of offensive lineman but one position that will have little to no experience will be the center. If the Cougars can cause confusion and stuff the run, it will allow the secondary to play with less pressure and could allow the linebackers to pressure Solomon.
When the Cougars have the ball:
It is hard to tell what the offense will look like since new offensive coordinator is calling plays for the first time at the college level. We can surmise however a few things. First, he will utilize Taysom Hill in both the running and the passing game. If he didn't call plays to Hill's strengths then he will have already failed. Second, he will use Jamaal Williams in the passing game and not just as a running back. Third, the tight end at BYU will be more than someone that is in the game to throw a few blocks. Detmer loved the passing tight end when a quarterback and nothing has shown us differently as a coordinator. If the Cougars can get the tight end to be effective in the passing game, the offense could be light years ahead of expectations.
Watch for the Wildcats to press the receivers and play physical. That game plan worked last year for a number of Cougar opponents and if they can disrupt the timing and the route running it won’t matter what scheme the Cougars bring in. Watch for Arizona to use a spy for Hill whose only job will be to keep Hill from making a play with his feet and forcing him to use his arm.
For years we have heard the Arizona Wildcats use the phrase "Bear Down" and have had no clue where it fit in with the school. To be exact it has been 90 years since the school has used it as a slogan and a battle cry. In 1926 the Wildcats had a new Student Body President, John Byrd “Button” Salmon, that also played a number of varsity sports for the school. After a match with the freshman team Salmon and a few teammates were in an auto accident that lead to his death on October 18th. The head coach at the time visited Salmon in the hospital frequently and told his teammates that his last message before his death was "Tell them....Tell the team to bear down". The student body quickly picked up on this after hearing it and this led to the battle cry being painted on the roof of the gym and being used for almost a century. For more information on this and John Salmon you can read the entire story here.
The Cougars and Wildcats are scheduled to meet next in Arizona on September 1st, 2017 for the second of five scheduled match-ups over the next 11 years.
The Broadcasting Details
Time: 8:30 pm MT
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium-Glendale, Arizona
TV: Fox Sports One (FS1)
Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143
Listen Live via Internet(KSL): Click Here