Can BYU notch its third victory in three weeks over a Pac-12 South team when it faces Arizona State in Provo on Saturday?
The No. 23 Cougars already have wins over Arizona and Utah to start the season. BYU (2-0) beat the Utes 26-17 last weekend, ending a nine-game losing streak against their Holy War rivals. The Cougars never trailed while running 25 more plays and holding the ball 11 minutes longer than the Utes. They also forced two turnovers and allowed Utah to convert only two third downs.
Facing BYU represents a much bigger challenge for the No. 19 Sun Devils than what they faced during their first two weeks of the season. Arizona State (2-0) coasted to wins over FCS Southern Utah and UNLV in its first two games. The Sun Devils overcame a sluggish start and pulled away for a 37-10 win over the Rebels last weekend. They allowed just 155 yards of total offense and 11 first downs.
Arizona State leads the series 20-7. BYU has won two straight, most recently upsetting the then-No. 14-ranked Sun Devils 26-6 in 1998.
No. 19 Arizona State at No. 23 BYU
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 18 at 10:15 p.m. ET
Spread: Arizona State -3.5
When Arizona State Has the Ball
The Sun Devils did not get things rolling on offense against UNLV until the second half. In the end, though, Arizona State scored the game's final 30 points behind a relentless running attack and efficient passing.
Arizona State is tops in the Pac-12 with 259 rushing yards per game. Sophomore quarterback Jayden Daniels leads the way with 165 yards on 19 carries. Daniels burned the Rebels for a career-high 125 yards on the ground. His mobility offers a nice complement to Rachaad White in the running game. White finished off the 2020 season with a pair of 100-yard rushing games. He nearly got there again against UNLV, finishing with 90 yards on 22 carries.
Daniels hasn't had to do much in the passing game with how dominant the Sun Devils have been at running the ball. He threw for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 20-of-29 passing against the Rebels. Daniels has a big arm and can rip apart opposing defenses with big plays. He proved as much in his freshman season in 2019 when he had four 300-yard games and a 400-yard game.
BYU has shown vulnerabilities against both the run and pass. The Cougars gave up 345 passing yards to Arizona in Week 1. Then, last weekend, they allowed Utah to gain 193 yards on the ground. Still, extending drives against BYU won't be easy. The Cougars are allowing opponents to convert only 27 percent of their third downs so far.
When BYU Has the Ball
Efficient offense has been a trademark in BYU's first two games. The Cougars are plus-three in turnover margin and have not yet turned the ball over on offense. They have won 16 consecutive games when leading in the turnover margin.
Quarterback Jaren Hall has played a critical role in helping BYU play mistake-free football. Hall has shown a knack for staying calm under pressure and making plays with his feet. He eluded multiple would-be sacks against Utah and ended up racking up 92 rushing yards on just eight carries. Hall added three touchdown passes against the Utes. Through two games, the sophomore quarterback is completing 62 percent of his passes and becoming a dangerous playmaker.
Hall's speed and elusiveness are a perfect complement to BYU's one-two punch of Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa in the backfield. Allgeier is on track to have another 1,000-yard season. He's averaging 95.5 rushing yards per game as the Cougars' primary back. Katoa is a threat as a runner and a receiver and is averaging 40.0 all-purpose yards per game.
Being able to run the ball will be a difference-maker against Arizona State. The Sun Devils rank fourth nationally in pass defense, allowing just 106.5 yards per game. They have not allowed a touchdown pass and have recorded three interceptions through two games.
BYU will be comfortable with the physical style of football Arizona State wants to play. The Cougars are strong in the trenches and that's driving their ability to be efficient on offense and punishing on defense. The Sun Devils have looked imposing on defense thus far. But how much of that is a mirage considering both of their wins were over highly mediocre opponents? Arizona State will find attempting to slow down a Top 25 opponent on the road to be a much more formidable challenge.
Prediction: BYU 20, Arizona State 17
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.