Arizona opens the season against BYU in a neutral field game at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cougars underwent a complete regime change in the off-season and it is safe to say that the offense may look a bit different in the opener. Head Coach Kalani Sitake revamped the whole staff and went with a face that was new to the college ranks for his Offensive Coordinator hire.
Ty Detmer may have had a long NFL career as a backup, but he returned to his alma mater this season after spending just four years coaching a high school team in Texas. He went 8-1 in his final season at St. Andrews Episcopal School. While he found growing success in the high school ranks, it is yet to be seen if Detmer's coaching and scheme can translate to the collegiate level.
Not much is known about how BYU's offense will look compared to last season with an entirely new coaching staff. If early indications are to be believed, the Cougars will run more of a pro-style offense as opposed to the spread that BYU has run in recent years.
If Detmer and the BYU offense are going to thrive, it is going to show at the quarterback position. Senior signal caller Taysom Hill was named the starter over the sophomore and incumbent Tanner Mangum.
Hill was also named the starter a year ago before a foot injury in the opener sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Even though he has recovered, his health still remains a factor as the 26-year old senior has suffered three season-ending injuries in his time at BYU.
Hill has the ability to run, but we just don't know how much his number will be called in that regard. he could be the type of runner that only does it to escape pressure or BYU could game plan for Hill's running ability, which seems unlikely if it truly is a pro-style offense.
Throughout the game, Hill will likely try to connect with senior receiver Nick Kurtz, who caught 39 passes for 578 yards and three touchdowns last season. Kurtz has actually been fighting a foot injury, but the general feeling is that he will be ready to go on Saturday.
In addition to Kurtz, Colby Pearson and Mitchell Juergens will get plenty of looks. Neither of them are listed as starters, but in similar fashion to Arizona, both will see enough reps to make an impact.
BYU will likely use two tight ends in the passing game and there isn't much of a difference between the two. Sophomore Hunter Marshall is a transfer from Snow College and likely to start with Tanner Balderee right behind him.The tight end has to be a concern for Arizona, as opposing teams have had success there in the past and the belief that Detmer will go to what he liked as a quarterback, which is relying on the tight end.
On the ground, expect the Cougars to rely heavily on senior tailback Jamaal Williams. He sat out last season for personal reasons, but was one of the best rushers in the country in 2013 with 1,233 yards. In fact, despite only playing in 32 games, Williams is sixth in school history in rushing and only 929 yards away from being the top rusher in BYU history.
At 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, Arizona is going to have its hands full. There's a good chance BYU is going to give it to Williams early and often in order to test Arizona's smaller defensive line and if the Wildcats are going to win, they will need to find a way to at least contain Williams.
With that being said, Williams isn't the only threat. Squally Canada transferred from Washington State and supposedly had a great spring. In addition, Algernon Brown was BYU's leading rusher last season and is now playing at fullback, so the Cougars could present some different looks there as well.
On the offensive line, BYU is huge. There isn't a player shorter than six-feet tall with the biggest being right tackle Ului Lapuaho at 6-foot-7, 335 pounds. Center Tejan Koroma, who has started 25 games for the Cougars, is considered the smallest of the bunch and he's still 295 pounds.
Players to Watch:
#7, QB Taysom Hill: This goes without saying, but Hill is still a player prone to injuries. It will be interesting to see if Arizona tests his speed and if BYU treats him differently in the season opener.
#87, WR Mitch Juergens The senior receiver wasn't the best on the team last season, but he still caught 37 passes, including two for touchdowns. Juergens also had the longest play from scrimmage with an 84 yard score. With pieces ahead of him departed, he should be in line to be a solid playmaker.
Keys to the Game:
Pressure the Quarterback - During the Jeff Casteel years, Arizona struggled to get pressure on the quarterback. Hill hasn't played a real game in a year and hasn't finished a game in almost two. Getting some early hurries and hits on him could be enough to rattle him and force a few poor throws.
Create Turnovers - With the introduction of Marcel Yates as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator came a the promise of a more aggressive defense. There would be no better way to put the rest of the conference on notice than to create some takeaways during the game and turn them into points.
Play Loose - It's always rough to start the season under a new coaching staff, but it isn't any better playing on a neutral and unfamiliar turf. Arizona needs to come out ready to play and not worry about mistakes early on. Recovering from a missed assignment could be the difference in staying in the game or getting blown out.