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BYU Football Holds Off Upset-Minded Arizona In Vegas Kickoff Classic

Sep 5, 2021, 12:41 AM
BYU Football - Neil Pau'u - Arizona...
BYU football wide receiver Neil Pau'u had two touchdown grabs in BYU's win over Arizona. (BYU Photo/Jaren WIlkey)
(BYU Photo/Jaren WIlkey)

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – BYU football made it tougher than they needed to against Arizona.

In a game that saw BYU enter the first-ever Vegas Kickoff Classic as a double-digit favorite, the Cougars with Jaren Hall now at quarterback looked poised to fulfill the predictions of the wise guys here in the desert.

BYU had a lead of 21-3 in the third quarter, and then before they knew it, it was a one-possession ball game at 21-13.

Arizona quarterback Gunner Cruz, who entered the game as a co-starter with Will Plummer, took the reigns of the Wildcat offense going 34-of-45 for 336 yards. He helped lead the way for Arizona to get some momentum on their side.

The Wildcats forced a safety, then they returned a BYU punt into Cougar territory, and suddenly it was game on.

BYU football faced adversity, but then responded

But then BYU responded to put away the game for good to open the 2021 season with a 24-16 win and give the large contingent of BYU fans a victory send off.

BYU goes to 1-0 for the fifth time in Kalani Sitake’s six years as head coach.

Coming into the game, there was a lot of mystery about Arizona. Both BYU’s offense and defense had to gather information in the early going as the game was tied at zero through one. Then BYU appeared to pull away in the second quarter.

After letting their 18-point lead drop to eight, BYU’s defense tightened up. The Wildcats were on the move early in the fourth quarter, and they found their way into BYU territory before freshman defensive end Tyler Batty came up with a sack that resulted in a loss of 17 yards.

Jaren Hall then took the reigns and led BYU on a drive to put the Cougars in field goal position. Backup kicker Justen Smith hit a 40-yard field goal to put BYU’s lead back at 11, and Sitake’s squad kept the Wildcats at bay from there.

Arizona added a late field goal, but BYU then secured the Wildcats onside kick. Wide receiver Samson Nacua, who had not played the entire game, stepped in at the end to recover the onside kick. Nacua was dealing with an injury coming into the game.

Arizona now has lost 13 consecutive games dating back to 2019.

BYU will return home to Provo to host rival Utah on Saturday, September 11 at 8:15 p.m. (MT) on ESPN and KSL NewsRadio.

Key Stats

–BYU passed for 207 yards and rushed for 164, resulting in a total of 370 for the game. Arizona put up more yards than the Cougars. Fisch’s group ended up with 426 total yards, with 345 coming through the air.

–Both teams were perfect on 4th down conversions. Arizona was 3-for-3, while BYU was 1-for-1. In Arizona’s first offensive series under Fisch, they went for it on 4th down in their own territory.

–BYU averaged 4.7 yards per carry to Arizona’s 2.3.

–WR Neil Pau’u shined hauling in two touchdown grabs from QB Jaren Hall. Pau’u ended the night with eight catches for 126 yards.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12-3 pm) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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