Cactus Kickoff: Vegas has BYU, Arizona in high scoring affair

BYU at ARIZONA, Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MST (FS1)

Senior quarterback Taysom Hill will lead the charge for BYU on Saturday as the Cougars take on Arizona in the Cactus Kickoff in Glendale, Arizona — home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals University of Phoenix Stadium.

As an independent, BYU has always had a front-loaded schedule, and this year is no different with the Cougars taking on three consecutive Pac-12 teams (Arizona, Utah, UCLA).

BYU head coach Kalani Sitake is making his coaching debut for the Cougars and is one of 19 new head coaches this year. Sitake is just BYU’s fourth head coach since 1972.

Hill, beat out Tanner Mangum for the starting spot and is regarded as one of the top quarterbacks in the country, so long as he stays healthy. The fifth-year senior is coming off is third season-ending injury after sustaining a Lisfranc fracture in the season-opening game against Nebraska last year.

“Taysom is a very, very good player. … I wish he would have already graduated because he’s so talented and tough to defend,” said Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez.

Hill will take the reins of the No. 21 passing attack in college football from last year. The Cougars will look to exploit Arizona’s secondary which allowed 268.2 yards per game.

On the other side, junior quarterback Anu Solomon is expected to get the starting job. Arizona checked in at No. 30 in passing offense (272.9 yards per game). Unfortunately for Solomon, the Wildcats don’t have a lot of receiving corps experience this year and will be going up against a BYU defense that was ranked No. 31 in pass defense (201.8) last year.

The Cougar defense will have some changes this year as it uses both a 3-4 and 4-3 front. The corners will also play more man-press, something that was rarely done in the Bronco Mendenhall days.

The defense will certainly have its hands full with running back Nick Wilson. The junior has accumulated over 2,000 rushing yards, 24 touchdowns with an impressive average of 5.7 yards per carry. Wilson achieved all of that despite missing four games last year due to injury.

For a defense that at times has struggled against the run – UCLA and Michigan last year – Wilson could pose a problem for the Cougar defense.

Las Vegas currently has Arizona as a 1.5 favorite after opening as a three point favorite. The over/under (which is the combined number of points for both BYU and Arizona) sits at 61. As we can see, Vegas expects quite a bit of offense.

And while every team is hyped to start the season, there is added emphasis this year for the Cougars with a new coaching staff, a number of returning starters, a possible Big 12 invitation coming and playing arguably the toughest schedule in program history.

Add to the fact that the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner (Ty Detmer) is returning to the sidelines as the new offensive coordinator, and you have yourself a perfect recipe to be amped heading into Saturday’s opener.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this game,” said Sitake. “This is like Christmas. Our guys are ready. I’m really happy with what they did in the offseason and I’m looking forward to them showing what they did and all their hard work and sacrifice paying off Saturday.”

Series History: BYU and Arizona last faced off in the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl with the Wildcats picking up a 31-21 victory. BYU is 9-12-1 overall against Arizona, with a 0-1 record playing on a neutral site.

PAC-12: The Cougars are facing an opponent from the Pac-12 in a season opener for the fifth time since 2006. BYU is 3-1 in that time span.

Head Coaching Debut: Head coach Kalani Sitake is making his head coaching debut. He is one of 19 new FBS head coaches coaching in their first game. Sitake is just BYU’s fourth head coach since 1972.