Gunner Cruz started, took most of the snaps and performed well overall in his first extended playing time as a collegian. Although he connected on a high percentage of pass throughout (75.6%), Cruz clearly got more comfortable in the second half, when his average per attempt jumped from 6.47 yards to 8.19. He had some issues, though. Jedd Fisch estimated that three of the four sacks Arizona allowed were “on us” – meaning he and the quarterbacks. A 17-yard loss in the fourth quarter was particularly costly. Cruz also misread the secondary and threw an interception on first-and-10 from the BYU 35-yard line in the fourth. Will Plummer played one series – not enough to merit a grade beyond incomplete.
Michael Wiley and Drake Anderson took all the snaps, and they had a heavy workload, combining for 35 touches and 193 scrimmage yards. Both served as valuable outlets for Cruz, totaling 15 receptions. Wiley was extremely busy, easily setting a new career high with 21 touches, which netted 130 yards. He ran hard, especially between the tackles, where holes were hard to find. Anderson provided a nice change of pace, using his quickness and shiftiness to elude tackles. He had 14 touches for 63 yards.
Stanley Berryhill III led the way, totaling career bests in receptions (12, on 13 targets) and yards (102). He maneuvered deftly in tight spaces along the sidelines. BJ Casteel had five catches for 53 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown that saw him catch a short pass over the middle and break free toward the left pylon. Tayvian Cunningham had four catches for 59 yards and drew a pass-interference penalty. The tight ends weren’t as involved as expected, totaling only three receptions. Bryce Wolma appeared to be open for a touchdown on one play, but Cruz didn’t see him.
Was Fisch being kind to the line in his assessment of blame for the sacks? Maybe. There were a couple of glaring breakdowns in pass protection, and the line had trouble dealing with blitzes, a carryover from last season. For the most, though, Cruz and Plummer had adequate time. The run blocking was decent, especially in short-yardage situations; in all, Wiley and Anderson combined for 99 yards on 23 attempts. The line wasn’t at full strength, as left tackle Jordan Morgan was out because of injury. That pushed Josh Baker into the lineup. The second-year freshman held up well in his first career start.
Many expected BYU to run roughshod over this group. That didn’t happen. The front also produced one of the biggest defensive plays of the game. But it sprung a few leaks too, especially along the edges, and didn’t get home enough (one sack, by Kyon Barrs). The big play started with Trevon Mason’s penetration into the backfield and ended with him and Rashie Hodge Jr. teaming up for a safety. Mason and Hodge combined for three of the front’s 5.5 TFLs. Linebackers Treshaun Hayward and Anthony Pandy matched Mason with eight tackles.
Top cornerbacks Christian Roland-Wallace and Isaiah Rutherford weren’t targeted much, a testament to their effective coverage. The same couldn’t be said for nickel CB Malik Hausman, who got burned for a 67-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Jaxen Turner, Jaydin Young and Gunner Maldonado rotated at safety, and the play at that position was an upgrade over last season. They combined for 14 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, one forced fumble and one pass breakup. Turner did commit a facemask infraction.
This unit was all over the map. Lucas Havrisik’s two missed field goals were a killer in what became a one-score game. The two kicks didn’t miss by much, but Havrisik – a preseason second-team All-Pac-12 selection – shouldn’t be missing from that range in an indoor stadium. Kyle Ostendorp, who won a three-way competition for the punting job, had a promising ’21 debut, averaging 42.2 yards and placing a 36-yarder at the 1-yard line to set up the safety. Cunningham’s subsequent 36-yard kick return featured a gorgeous hurdle and set up a TD.
Fisch was critical of his own play-calling; he had trouble finding the right combination of plays early in the game when the offense was struggling to move the ball. Fisch emboldened the team by going for it on fourth down twice in UA territory; both conversions were successful. Don Brown’s defense wasn’t as over-the-top aggressive as expected, perhaps a concession to BYU quarterback Jaren Hall’s mobility. The defense wasn’t set on the Cougars’ first TD; it’s unclear where the breakdown occurred. Overall, Fisch and his staff deserve credit for inspiring a team that was decidedly uninspired the last time it played a real game.