BYU vs. Arizona Predictions: Can the Cougars Cover the Hefty Spread on Saturday Night?

Matt Hayes is here with his predictions for the Vegas Kickoff Classic between the Brigham Young Cougars and Arizona Wildcats where we find out if BYU can cover in their first game without Zach Wilson.
Matt Hayes
Wed, September 1, 5:56 AM EDT

Arizona vs BYU Predictions:

Arizona Wildcats vs Brigham Young Cougars

Point Spread: BYU -11.5

Total: 54

Game time: 10:30 PM ET

TV: ESPN

Arizona vs BYU Prediction

Arizona vs BYU Odds

Out of the Tunnel:

If we gained knowledge through osmosis, think about what Jedd Fisch would bring as Arizona's first-year coach. In 20-plus years of coaching, and before he got his first head coaching job in Tucson, Fisch worked for some of the greatest coaches in the sport: Steve Spurrier, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh, Sean McVay, and Bill Belichick.

Now, the reality is Arizona is a tough job, a difficult place to recruit to, and a program that has struggled to find consistency since legendary coach Dick Tomey's last season in 2000. Rich Rodriguez, the one coach who did have a modicum of success before getting fired for alleged off-field problems, was an innovative offensive coach. Likewise, Fisch is highly regarded within the coaching community as an innovative offensive game planner and play-caller. Successful offenses go hand in hand with good talent, and Arizona isn't there yet. So Fisch is reshaping the roster and added 16 players from the transfer portal.

BYU begins year one post-star QB Zach Wilson, and the vibe around fall camp was the motivation to prove the program was more than just the No.2 overall pick in the NFL draft.

Cougars coach Kalani Sitake stressed all last season that his team embraced the idea of playing with toughness and playing for each other, a key ingredient of so many successful BYU teams of the past.
Wilson's talent helped carry BYU to a unique season, but that doesn't mean this group can't be just as dangerous. Frankly, there could be more at stake this season.

While decisions about conference affiliation go far beyond the field, BYU is attractive to the Big 12, which is looking to expand after losing Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC, effective 2025. In addition, BYU's alumni base and television appeal are important in any discussion of leaving its independent status and joining the Big 12. Another big season won't hurt, especially games against seven Power 5 schools, including Pac-12 schools Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Washington State, and USC.

When Arizona Has The Ball:

Head Coach Fisch lists Spurrier near the top of his most significant influences of all the men he has coached under. His unwavering audacity, with both play-calling and personnel decisions, is what stuck with Fisch. It should be no surprise then that Fisch says two quarterbacks, Will Plummer and Gunner Cruz, will both play against BYU. "You're developing kids and developing a team," Fisch said. "You have to find the best way to make that work."

Cruz, who transferred from Washington State, will start, but Plummer, the only holdover scholarship quarterback from the previous staff, will play in the first half. The play of both will dictate who plays in the second half.

There's one critical issue no matter who plays quarterback, Arizona must pass protect better. While the Wildcats return all but one offensive lineman on the roster, that group gave up 18 sacks in five games last season (most in the Pac-12), and in 2019 gave up 33 in 12 games. Fisch will use some double tight end sets, both in pass protection and pass schemes to support pass protection and confuse it. Former coach Kevin Sumlin rarely used tight ends.

The staff feels good about wideouts Stanley Berryhill III and BJ Casteel and their ability to extend plays after the catch. Steady sophomore tailback Michael Wiley got help this offseason when Fisch added Northwestern tailback Drake Anderson, who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards over the last three seasons.

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When BYU Has The Ball:

Jaren Hall, who redshirted last year, won a three-player competition for the starting quarterback job. He played in seven games two years ago when Wilson dealt with various injuries, threw for 420 yards and 1 TD, and ran for 139 yards and 3 TD. Hall has started just twice in his career and didn't finish either game because of injury. So, fair or not, he has been seen as a player who can't stay healthy.

While figuring out the quarterback position was important, a young offensive line adjusting quickly to game speed is paramount to running the ball and pass protection. The problem is that new Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown also know as "Dr. Blitz," will bring pressure from everywhere to confuse the BYU offense. This is still an Arizona team that has lost 12 straight games, and by the time Saturday rolls around, it will be 700 days since its last win, but that doesn't mean Brown won't take chances; he will.
For Brown, there is no reward without risk. The best plan to disrupt an offense, especially one with a quarterback lacking experience, is getting pressure and forcing quick decisions because those quick decisions can, at times, lead to turnovers.

The Bottom Line:

This is a heavy lift for Fisch at Arizona, and it starts in a tough spot with the home opener against a physical BYU team with good speed on offense. There are chunk plays and game-breaking plays to be had against aggressive defenses, and BYU will take advantage of it. 

Arizona vs BYU Prediction & Pick:

Prediction: BYU, 27-14

Pick: BYU -11.5 (-110)

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