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5 takeaways from the Arizona Wildcats’ 24-16 season-opening loss to BYU
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5 takeaways from the Arizona Wildcats’ 24-16 season-opening loss to BYU

Arizona running back Drake Anderson (8) hops out of the grip of against Brigham Young defensive lineman Tyler Batty (92) after his catch near the sideline in the third quarter of the Vegas Kickoff Classic, Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev., September 4, 2021.

Every week throughout the season, we take a look back at the Arizona Wildcats’ previous game after re-watching it via the TV broadcast. Here are five key takeaways from the UA’s 24-16 loss to BYU in the season opener Saturday in Las Vegas:

1. THE LINE ON CRUZ

Upon further review, we don’t necessarily agree with Jedd Fisch’s initial assessment that three of the four sacks Arizona allowed were the fault of the QB collective (which includes Fisch). When the Cougars brought pressure, the Wildcats’ offensive line struggled to handle it (sound familiar?). A case could be made that on at least two of the sacks, quarterback Gunner Cruz basically had no chance. Could he have recognized what was happening and gotten rid of the ball sooner? Maybe. But it wasn’t obvious on those plays. What’s also unclear is how clearly Cruz is seeing the field – and if he isn’t seeing it, what’s causing it? Since he got here, Cruz has been slow to pull the trigger at times. The consequences aren’t as grave in practice. It showed up on about half a dozen occasions against BYU. When you consider that Cruz attempted 45 passes and had more than 50 dropbacks – and was making his first career college start – that isn’t so bad. The question is whether he can improve his field vision with time and experience. It shows up in other ways besides holding the ball. In the second quarter, Cruz forced a pass to Jalen Johnson – which was nearly intercepted – when Bryce Wolma was practically uncovered on the opposite side of the field and would have had an easy touchdown. You’d like to think that the more Cruz plays, the better he’ll get at finding his second and third reads.

2. HOW MUCH DID DR. BLITZ ... BLITZ?

The first time through, it didn’t feel as if UA defensive coordinator Don Brown brought the house. More like the apartment. On second viewing, it was at least a condo. We tracked the number of rushers Arizona sent toward BYU quarterback Jaren Hall every time he dropped to pass. A defensive play is considered a blitz if five or more players pursue the quarterback. According to our unofficial tally, Brown sent five or six rushers on 19 of 29 dropbacks (including the play where Hall scrambled for 39 yards; not including the trick play where he caught a pass). The other 10 times, Arizona rushed four. So Dr. Blitz blitzed almost two-thirds of the time. Why didn’t we pick up on that live? Two reasons: (1) Sometimes the blitzes were delayed, so it wasn’t obvious at the snap; and (2) BYU did a good job of countering the pressure by having Hall roll out of the pocket and throw quickly into the flats. One area of potential concern moving forward: BYU exploited Arizona’s man coverage on the ground, running off defensive backs and leaving large swaths open on the perimeter.

3. WORTHY NO. 1

Arizona receiver Stanley Berryhill III tiptoes down the line after slipping out of the hands of Brigham Young linebacker Keenan Pili (41) and continue to near the red zone in the fourth quarter of the Vegas Kickoff Classic, Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, Nev., September 4, 2021.

After Game 1, there was no doubt Stanley Berryhill III deserved the No. 1 jersey he earned during the offseason. Not only did he lead the Wildcats in receptions (12) and yards (102) – setting career marks in both categories – but only one ball thrown Berryhill’s way wasn’t converted, per the official box score. That was a play late in the second quarter that was mistimed just enough that Berryhill couldn’t get a foot inbounds inside the left sideline. (He still caught the pass.) Berryhill also gained a bunch of yardage after the catch. But wait, there’s more: Berryhill also served as Arizona’s punt returner. He wasn’t perfect, muffing one ball, but generally handled the job well. If that seems like enough duties for Berryhill, well, they don’t just give the No. 1 jersey to anyone. Berryhill also served as one of the gunners on the punt team and seemed to be the first man down every time. Kyle Ostendorp’s punt that went out at the 1-yard line, leading to Arizona’s safety, might have bounced out of bounds if no one touched it. But just to be sure, Berryhill was in position just beyond the goal line. The former baseball player tracked the punt like a popup.

4. THIS TIME IT’S PERSONNEL

Each week we provide some notes on individual players, so here goes … Fisch and Cruz said the interception he threw was the result of a disguised coverage, and the TV copy indicated as much. BYU’s Hayden Livingston began the play on the left hash marks. After the snap, he rotated to the middle of the field. Cruz needs to learn to manage situations like that better. It was first-and-10, not fourth-and-10. ... RB Drake Anderson truly provided a changeup to Michael Wiley’s slashing style. Anderson ran with patience, niftiness and excellent pad level. ... The offensive line remains worrisome. Donovan Laie, who slid in at left tackle for the injured Jordan Morgan, appeared to hurt his lower left leg in the second half. Second-year freshman Josh Baker blocked well in the run game but struggled at times in pass protection. Right tackle Paiton Fears continues to have trouble against speed rushers. ... DT Kyon Barrs registered Arizona’s lone sack at a time when the defensive line was starting to look gassed. It happened on a four-man rush. It was a product of pure effort. ... You can see why Brown likes Rashie Hodge Jr. as a nickel defender. He’s quick and explosive. Fellow ILB Treshaun Hayward was productive, especially on plays in the box. He wasn’t as effective when tasked with chasing plays to the sidelines. ... All three safeties made plays and played well. Gunner Maldonado, as Fisch recently noted, has been surging. He flies to the ball.

5. NOT FOOL’S GOLD

“Arizona didn’t win the game, and we agree ... that losing isn’t acceptable. But the loss ... felt different. The Wildcats were competitive and feisty. They repeatedly responded to adversity. They provided a respectable, entertaining product.” You know who wrote that? We did. After last year’s opener. That 34-30 setback against USC proved to be a false start. The Wildcats didn’t come close to winning the rest of the season. Why might this time be different? First of all, the game against the Trojans had some fluky elements to it. For example, USC entered the red zone a whopping eight times and scored touchdowns on only half of those occasions. The Trojans also came away empty twice. They put up 498 yards on the Wildcats. Arizona outgained BYU Saturday night by a decent margin (426-368). The Wildcats had nine more first downs (27-18). There was never a point where it felt as if the Cougars were clearly the superior team. They did win, of course. Arizona didn’t finish drives well. The Wildcats didn’t score any touchdowns inside the red zone, and they missed two field goals. But it all felt real. We’ll see if we’re right in the home opener vs. San Diego State.

Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or mlev@tucson.com. On Twitter @michaeljlev 


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