The state of Arizona (2-0) still holds an impeccable two-week record, which is more than the majority of its conference opponents can say. That said, winning Saturday night against UNLV, the old adage of it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish certainly applies.
By the time most needle movers in college football woke up to the first Sunday NFL action of the year, a box score with a 37-10 Sun Devil win over the Rebels was right on target. The Sun Devils moved up in the AP poll to number 19, the highest ranking for the program since it was number 17 after a 5-1 start to the 2019 season.
If the Sun Devil team that appeared in the first half against UNLV advances to the second half, serious problems may arise with its upcoming opponent, BYU (2-0). Coming off an emotional, monkey-off-the-back victory over their in-state rival Utah, the Cougars look set to carry the momentum from an 11-1 season last year into 2021.
Luckily for the Sun Devils, they got their act together in the final 30 minutes and drove past the Rebels for a comfortable closing margin. On the other hand, it seems that the Cougars have answered many of their off-season questions. By all accounts, this upcoming match-up in Provo will be one of the toughest tests of the young season. Here’s the first look at BYU.
The next man after Zach Wilson
BYU is not USC, Michigan, Miami or Washington in terms of historic program success. However, when it comes to producing great programs, look no further than the capital Y. In the 1980s and 1990s, BYU Quarterback U was named under head coach LaVell Edwards after producing quarterbacks such as Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Steve Sarkisian and Ty Detmer.
Even recent, future New Orleans Saints quarterback and athlete Taysom Hill enjoyed a successful career in Provo. Last year, the No. 2 overall pick of the NFL Draw 2021 Zach Wilson shone in his junior season, throwing 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns. His completion rate of 73.5 broke Steve Young’s old record.
There would almost certainly be a drop in quarterback play this season. How steep it would be would determine the course of the Cougars season in 2021. Through two matches with their new signal caller, sophomore Jaren Hall, the drop looks more like a hospital exit than a roller coaster descent.
This season, Hall has thrown 347 yards and five touchdowns with a 62.1 completion rate. Most importantly, he hasn’t thrown an interception yet.
Last week against Utah, his game was exceptional. He can clamber on command for the first time, but can also stand in the bag and handle the pressure with balance. He made big throws to the left and to the right. Simply put, this is going to be a tough assignment for the Sun Devil defense.
The second sophomore back field
Tyler Allgeier’s decline was the thunder of Wilson’s lightning last year and his start to the 2021 season is booming again.
The same line of questions about the future of passing play also applied to how BYU could run the ball with the same success after four offensive linemen left for the NFL. In 2020, Allgeier rushed for more than 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman.
Consider the question answered after the Utah victory: This powerful hasty attack isn’t going anywhere. Allgeier had his name called 27 times against the Utes and made his way for 102 yards.
The state of Arizona has so far not allowed a 100-yard rusher in games against Southern Utah and UNLV this season, but Allgeier will be a very different beast this Saturday.
Watch out for the turnover and which sun devils will appear?
Surprising to the many ready to watch another Utah win over BYU, the Cougars controlled much of last week’s game. In large part this was due to the Utes turning the ball around on their first two drives.
The easiest way to ease the burden of an opponent breaking in on a new attack is to pass the ball directly to their defense in a short field. That’s exactly what the Utes did, and because of that they played from behind the whole game.
BYU seems to be a team that plays very comfortably from the front. They didn’t strike quickly in their win, instead finishing the clock with long marches to scoring area. Other than the awkward field goal on the second drive, each of the last four Cougar scoring drives saw at least ten snaps.
Sophomore linebacker Keenan Pili will be the BYU player to watch on defense. In two games, he has already collected 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
For an Arizona state offense that hasn’t quite found its ability to tear down big games, the key this weekend will be to keep the ball in hand and manage the game on their terms.
It all depends on which team shows up. The first half of the Sun Devils against UNLV, Provo will be bounced out of Provo just like their opponents at the conference before them. The second half Sun Devils against UNLV have more than a puncher’s chance of a win Saturday night.
Of course, with the announcement that BYU will soon be participating in a Power Five conference, this program treats every game as an audition to eat at the big kids’ table with recruiting for years to come. Another win over a Pac-12 opponent would bring the Cougars one step closer to achieving those goals.
The game kicks off at 7:15 PM MST and will be broadcast on ESPN.
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