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ASU Football: First Look at BYU

Cougar land

Utah v BYU Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images

Arizona State (2-0) still has an unblemished record through two weeks, which is more than the majority of its conference opponents can say. With that said, Saturday night’s win against UNLV, comes the old adage of it’s not how you start it’s how you finish certainly applies.

By the time most of the needle movers in college football woke up for the first Sunday NFL action of the year, a box score showing a 37-10 Sun Devil victory over the Rebels checked out alright. The Sun Devils advanced in the AP poll to No. 19, the highest ranking for the program since it was slotted at No. 17 following a 5-1 start to the 2019 season.

If the Sun Devil team that appeared in the first half against UNLV carried through into the second half, there might be serious trouble looming with its upcoming opponent, BYU (2-0). The Cougars are coming off an emotional, monkey-off-the-back victory over their in-state rival Utah, and appear to be carrying the momentum of an 11-1 season last year into 2021.

Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they got their act together in the final 30 minutes and powered over the Rebels for a comfortable closing margin. On the other side, it appears the Cougars have answered many of their offseason questions. For all intents and purposes, this upcoming matchup in Provo is shaping up to be one of the toughest tests of the young season. Here’s the first look at BYU.

The Next Man Up After Zach Wilson

BYU is not USC, Michigan, Miami or Washington in terms of historical program success. However, when it comes to simply producing great programs, look no further than the capital ‘Y.’ In the 1980s and 1990s, BYU was dubbed ‘Quarterback U’ under head coach LaVell Edwards after producing quarterbacks like Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Steve Sarkisian and Ty Detmer.

Even recently, future New Orleans Saints’ quarterback and athlete Taysom Hill enjoyed a successful career in Provo. Last year, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft Zach Wilson dazzled in his junior season, throwing for 3,692 yards and 33 touchdowns. His completion percentage of 73.5 broke the old record, previously held by Steve Young.

There was almost certainly going to be a drop in quarterback play this season. How steep it would be would determine the course of the Cougars’ season in 2021. Through two games with their new signal caller, sophomore Jaren Hall, the drop looks more like a hospital exit ramp than a roller coaster descent.

This season Hall has thrown for 347 yards and five touchdowns with a 62.1 completion percentage. Most importantly, he has yet to throw an interception.

Last week against Utah, his play was exceptional. He can scramble for the first down on command, but can also stand in the pocket and face the pressure with poise. He made big throws moving to his right and his left. Simply put, this will be a tough assignment for the Sun Devil defense.

The Second Backfield Sophomore

Running back Tyler Allgeier was the thunder to Wilson’s lightning last year, and his start to the 2021 season has been booming again.

The same line of questioning about the future of the passing game also applied to how BYU would be able to run the ball with the same success after four offensive lineman departed for the NFL. In 2020, Allgeier rushed for over 1,100 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman.

Consider the question answered after the Utah victory, this potent rushing attack is not going anywhere. Allgeier had his name called 27 times against the Utes, and bruised his way for 102 yards.

Arizona State has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher so far this season in games against Southern Utah and UNLV, but Allgeier will be an entirely different beast come this Saturday.

Beware of the Turnovers & Which Sun Devils Will Show Up?

Surprisingly for the many who were ready to watch another Utah victory over BYU, the Cougars controlled much of last week’s game. In large part, it was due to the Utes turning the ball over on their first two drives.

The simplest way to ease the burden on an opponent breaking in a new offense is to give the ball straight to their defense in a short field. That is exactly what the Utes did, and they played from behind the whole game because of it.

BYU appears to be a team very comfortable playing from in front. They didn’t strike fast in their win, instead winding down the clock with long marches into scoring territory. Outside of the fumble-gifted field goal on the second drive, each of the last four Cougar scoring drives saw at least ten snaps.

Sophomore linebacker Keenan Pili will be the BYU player to watch on defense. Through two games, he has already racked up 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

For an Arizona State offense that has yet to truly find their ability to break off big plays, the key this weekend will be to keep the ball in their hands and manage the game on their terms.

It all depends on which team shows up. The first half Sun Devils against UNLV will get bounced out of Provo like their conference opponents before them. The second half Sun Devils against UNLV have more than a puncher’s chance of a win Saturday night.

Of course, with the announcement that BYU will soon join a Power Five conference, this program is treating every game as an audition to eat at the big kid’s table with recruiting in the years to come. Another win over a Pac-12 opponent would bring the Cougars one step closer to reaching those goals.

The game kicks off at 7:15 p.m., MST and will be televised on ESPN.