GAMEDAY: Off-the-beaten-path storylines, Arizona Wildcats vs. BYU

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Random thoughts while wondering if new defensive Arizona coordinator Marcel Yates and his fresh, new defensive coach underlings will either wonder what the heck they got themselves into or feel a sense a pride after tonight’s game against Brigham Young at University of Phoenix Stadium. …

Defense as green as the field …

— It was reported here first back in January that of the 12 different Arizona defensive coordinators starting with the Tony Mason regime in 1977, Jeff Casteel became the first one that was not retained with the head coach remaining at the school during the Pac-10/12 years.

That span starts in 1978 with Bob Valesente under Tony Mason to now, with Yates coaching on Rich Rodriguez’s staff. Yates is taking on a defense without the departed Scooby Wright III that finished 10th in the Pac-12 allowing 466.9 yards per game.

The defense is very raw in terms of adapting to Yates’ new philosophies and their overall experience. Of the 17 defenders who have started at Arizona, only four of them have reached double-digits in starts. None of them started every game last season.

That can’t be good news going against a veteran quarterback Taysom Hill, who is 25, operating a passing offense that ranked 21st nationally at 296.5 yards per game.

By the numbers …

In their first game as Arizona’s defensive coordinator during the Pac-10/12 era, the coaches are 6-3, with a five-game winning streak currently (against considerably lesser teams than tonight). None of the opponents have scored more than 17 points. If that happens against BYU, Yates should be head coaching material on the spot.

ARIZONA DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR FIRST GAMES IN PAC-10/12 YEARS
Note: Bob Valesente under Tony Mason was defensive coordinator before Arizona joined the Pac-10 in 1978. Larry MacDuff has two stints as defensive coordinator, starting in 1987 under Dick Tomey and in 2001 under John Mackovic.

Year Coach Opponent W/L Score
1980 Moe Ankney Colorado State L 15-13
1986 Chris Allen Houston W 37-3
1987 Larry MacDuff Iowa L 15-14
1997 Rich Ellerson Oregon L 16-9
2003 Mike Hankwitz UTEP W 42-7
2004 Mark Stoops NAU W 21-3
2010 Greg Brown Toledo W 41-2
2011 Tim Kish NAU W 41-10
2012 Jeff Casteel Toledo W 24-17

Best BYU-Arizona game in history?

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As you learned reading our Top 100 individual records countdown, one particular game between old WAC rivals Arizona and BYU stood out particularly in the 1964 season-opener in Tucson, won by the Wildcats, 39-6.

In that game, two remarkable feats by Arizona players were accomplished that have not been matched: One player returning a punt not once, but twice, for a touchdown, and a defensive lineman intercepting not one, but two, passes. A defensive tackle intercepting one pass is incredible enough, but two … in one game?

Ken Giovando intercepted the two passes thrown by BYU’s Virgil Carter on attempted screen-play passes. Giovando, a coach emeritus at Scottsdale Community College, will likely be in attendance tonight.

Floyd Hudlow returned the two punts for touchdowns, including a 69-yarder in which he reportedly was touched by nine different BYU defenders en route to the end zone. Hudlow is retired in Ocean Springs, Miss., potentially observing the game on ESPN.

Do you think they will look back on that memorable game in 1964 while observing the Wildcats and Cougars play tonight?

Nick Wilson, the barometer …

Nick Wilson’s injury-riddled season last year typified Arizona’s helter-skelter season: Good one week, gone the next.

When Wilson has reached 100 yards in his career, the Wildcats are 9-1. The lone loss was the 56-31 setback to UCLA last season in Tucson. That was also the last game Wilson eclipsed the 100-yard mark (gaining 136 yards against the Bruins).

In the remaining five games he played after that UCLA game, Wilson had a combined 166 yards on 47 carries. He was not himself and the Wildcats suffered.

Arizona likes to attack defenses within the tackles with their run game, so it will be interesting to see how much BYU will miss dominant nose tackle Travis Tuiloma, out possibly a month with a foot injury.

This and that …

— BYU’s Kalani Sitake, a former defensive assistant at Utah and Oregon State, 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. Bronco Mendenhall dropped his opener in 2005 to Boston College but Gary Crowton defeated Tulane 70-35 in 2001 and LaVell Edwards won in 1972 against Kansas State 32-9. Another BYU head coach made his debut against Arizona, Tally Stevens in 1959. Stevens won 18-14. …

— The Wildcats have produced a 100-yard rusher 46 times since 2012, including a conference-record span of 16 straight games by Ka’Deem Carey, a feat rated by us as the No. 1 individual record in Arizona history. …

— BYU was one of just two schools that had two rushers in the top-25 nationally in rushing yards in 2013 when both Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams played a healthy season together. They are seniors this season. Hill was No. 19 nationally with 1,344 yards and Williams was No. 25 with 1,233. Wisconsin was the only other school with two with Melvin Gordon (No. 10 – 1,609) and James White (No. 14 – 1,444). …

Anu Solomon has started most of the games in his two-year career and amassed 6,460 yards while doing so, which ranks fourth-best in program history halfway through his career. But the past does not matter to Rodriguez, who has helped fuel a “controversy” with the media by saying he will not announce until minutes before the game who will start against the Cougars. Brandon Dawkins is the other choice. Expect both to play.

ARIZONA PASSING LEADERS

Yds Player Att Cmp Int TD Years
10011 Nick Foles 1396 933 33 67 2009-11
9211 Willie Tuitama 1276 786 31 67 2005-08
7618 Tom Tunnicliffe 1069 574 56 46 1980-83
6460 Anu Solomon 870 518 14 48 2014-

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