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3 takeaways from the BYU Cougars’ 24-16 season opening win over the Arizona Wildcats

SHARE 3 takeaways from the BYU Cougars’ 24-16 season opening win over the Arizona Wildcats
Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Payton Wilgar celebrates a play in 2021 in Las Vegas.

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Payton Wilgar (49) celebrates a sack on Arizona Wildcats quarterback Gunner Cruz (9) during the Vegas Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. BYU won 24-16.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The BYU Cougars opened their 2021 season with a 24-16 win over the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Here are three takeaways from the Cougars’ win.

Defense brought pressure when it mattered

There were questions about how good Arizona’s offense would be with a new coaching staff after an 0-5 2020 season and uncertainty at quarterback.

The Cougars were able to stymie that offense much of the night by pressuring the line of scrimmage, and they ultimately came up with four sacks, with Keenan Pili, Payton Wilgar, Tyler Batty and Uriah Leiataua getting one apiece.

More specifically, there were a couple of occasions when Arizona quarterback Gunner Cruz took big yardage losses when pressured that got the Wildcats out of an opportunity to score.

Offense was solid

In the first game of the Jaren Hall era as BYU’s undisputed starting quarterback, he was very solid, going 18 of 28 for 198 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed five times for 36 yards and was not sacked once until the fourth quarter.

A big storyline coming into the season was how many weapons at receiver Hall would have, but he wound up being rather limited, as neither Puka nor Samson Nacua played, and Gunner Romney got hurt.

Enter Neil Pau’u, who finished with eight receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns, including a 67-yarder.

Tyler Allgeier was very good in the run game, finishing with 94 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown, and Lopini Katoa added 33 yards on nine carries.

Special teams was a sneaky big factor

On the surface, not a ton happened in the special teams department, but some of what made it important is what didn’t happen.

For BYU, backup kicker Justen Smith made a field goal in the fourth quarter in place of star Jake Oldroyd that largely put the game out of reach, and Ryan Rehkow averaged 48 yards on five punts, with three inside the 20-yard line.

Arizona’s Lucas Havrisik, on the other hand, only made two of four field goals. That said, the brightest spot of the game for the Wildcats was a stretch of just over a minute in which it scored 10 points, and it was started by a punt that landed at the 1-yard line.