Arizona: Willie Tuitama is good. Having played down the stretch starting in each of Arizona's last four games the prospects for Tuitama are high entering his sophomore season. Tuitama raised the Wildcat's scoring average by almost 10 points per game when he played, although the yards per pass did not increase all that significantly.
BYU: John Beck started the last two full seasons for the Cougars, and he really hit his stride down the stretch last season. Beck averaged 309 yards passing per game last season which is almost a full 70 yards more than Tuitama.
Conclusion: While Tuitama was impressive for Arizona's final five games last year, five games does not a prolific quarterback make. Tuitama has only faced five different defenses in his career, but Beck has been there and done that against just about every college defense imaginable.
Arizona: The Wildcats have a big void to fill after the graduation of leading rusher Mike Bell. Arizona has four runners vying to fill in for not only Bell, but last year's second-leading rusher Gilbert Harris.
BYU: BYU returns Curtis Brown, who, like Beck, has been there and done that during his first three seasons for BYU. Brown has seen just about every type of defensive front and has found success against most. Behind Brown are a stable of very capable ball-carriers who are all ready to rumble.
Arizona: Arizona returns its leading receivers from a season ago. Both Syndric Steptoe and Mike Thomas are dangerous weapons who can beat an opposing defense deep on any given play.
Conclusion: While both outside receiving corps have a lot of experience, Arizona has true deep threat ability which is something BYU has yet to show on a consistent basis. Both units are very close, but…
Arizona: Arizona has a stable of four tight ends whom they fill comfortable with. The leader of the group is senior Brad Wood who had 34 receptions a year ago along with seven touchdowns.
Conclusion: While Arizona's tight ends look good, BYU's look to be spectacular. Arizona tight ends will be second and third options on most passing downs (except in the red zone), but BYU will look to its tight end tandem as primary play-makers.
Arizona: Arizona has decent experience with three returning starters. It was a line that saw some success last season although a few of them have proven to be injury-prone throughout their careers. It is a solid offensive front that will allow Arizona's offense to operate successfully.
BYU: Like Arizona BYU returns three starters two of which were the most dominant tackles in the Mountain West conference in Eddie Keele and Jake Kuresa. Also returning is freshman all-American Dallas Reynolds.
Conclusion: Arizona returns some good talent from last year's OL, but BYU returns an all-American and two NFL draft picks.
Arizona: The Wildcats return a defensive line that gave up 183.7 yards rushing per game last year. Many starters who were out or slowed by injury are now healthy and coaches brought in a group of junior college transfers to provide further depth. Leading the JC guys is Louis Holmes, who was widely regarded as the top junior college lineman in the entire country last recruiting season. The talent is in place to be on the outside, but the inside of Arizona's line as a lot to prove.
BYU: The Cougars returns only one D-lineman with any significant experience at the Division I level. While Arizona shored up its defensive front with junior college players, BYU will have to depend on a host of freshmen to stand firm against offensive fronts this year.
Conclusion: While BYU's defensive line showed well in practices it is hard to give them the edge against any defensive line in the country until they do something on the field of play.
Arizona: The Wildcats return a trio of linebackers who all were limited last season by injury. Spencer Larson, Ronnie Palmer and Dane Krogstad forma a solid group, but they need to prove that they can stop the run and help with in shallow pass coverage.
BYU: BYU's linebackers are the strength of their defense. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall re-designed his entire defensive scheme to supplement this strength going to a 3-4 scheme where BYU's linebackers will be asked to make most of the plays. Cameron Jensen has a wealth of experience and will be surrounded by a slew of promising young linebackers who are out to make a difference this year.
Conclusion: There is not a clear favorite here, but I like what I have seen from BYU's linebackers during August. They will be a strong group and the primary difference between a defense that was a liability last year and one that is an asset in 2006.
Arizona: The secondary is the strength of Arizona's defense. Their cover corners are among the best in the Pac-10, and their safeties are strong and experienced in the deep middle. It is a secondary that will hold most prolific passing offenses in check throughout the year.
BYU: The Cougars have a lot of returning defensive backs from a year ago. The unit struggled mightily throughout the 2005 season, but an outstanding new DB coach and a shift in the defensive scheme yielded a much improved secondary during fall camp.
Conclusion: While BYU's cornerbacks and safeties are trying to improve upon their sub-par performance, Arizona returns a very solid group which may be the top secondary unit in the Pac-10.
1. Beck will have time to throw the football
Arizona's effectiveness against the Cougar offense will hinge on how well they pressure disrupt the Cougar passing attack by pressuring Beck. Although he comes in with a lot of hype, Arizona's presumed defensive end standout Louis Holmes will not find success against Eddie Keele. BYU will be able to throw the ball effectively.
2. Arizona will make big plays
The BYU defense will be better overall, but their propensity for giving up big plays downfield has not disappeared. Tuitama and his receivers are capable of beating most defenses downfield and BYU is no exception. The Cougars must do their best job of damage control if they hope to prevail.
3. BYU will be able to run the football
Many point to the Las Vegas Bowl in which the Cougar running attack was held in check as an indicator that BYU cannot move the ball against top Pac-10 defensive fronts. The problem with that reasoning for this game is that Arizona does not have a top Pac-10 defensive front as evidenced by their ineffectiveness against the run last season. They may have healed and reloaded in the off-season, but the new and improved Wildcat line is untested.
4. Penalties and mistakes will limit the Cougar offense
Officiating will play its part in the game tomorrow. Officials should not play a part in any game, but that does not mean they won't. Look for some calls that leave BYU players baffled much like the phantom holding against Boston College last season. Expect BYU's offense to get off to a slow start but gain momentum as the game wares on and they adjust to the Pac-10 officiating crews.
If the Cougar offense can hit the ground running, which means no bad snaps or illegal procedure or holding penalties, then this is a game BYU should win comfortably.
5. BYU will win the Special Teams battle
No BYU team that I have covered has worked on special teams coverages, returns and protection more than this squad. The work, combined with the McGlaughlins abilities, will translate into improved special teams play that will actually help the team's cause instead of hurt it as has happened the prior five seasons.
BYU's top offensive performers in this game other than John Beck will be Manase Tonga, Curtis Brown and Daniel Coats.
BYU 34 Arizona 28
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