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BYU football faces ‘major challenge’ with Arizona State offense

The Cougars will have to contend with Sun Devils quarterback Jayden Daniels, who is adept at both passing and running the ball.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Isaiah Herron (11) celebrates a turnover in the first half as the Cougars play the Utah Utes in football, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021 in Provo.

The BYU Cougars stunned the University of Utah on Saturday in all facets of the game, and made an argument in the process that they are a force to be reckoned with. But the Cougars can’t rest on their laurels for long.

BYU’s next opponent might be tougher than the Utes. The Cougars face the No. 19 Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday (8:15 p.m., ESPN) at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and they’ll have their hands full — particularly on the defensive end.

Cougars assistant head coach Ed Lamb said the entire defensive staff has watched every game ASU has played this year and last year.

“The things that schematically give us issues are the number of formations and shifts and motions,” Lamb said Tuesday. “There’s a good balance between vertical play and horizontal play by the offense. They attack you in both ways.”

Quarterback Jayden Daniels has completed 73% of his passes through two games, despite throwing for an interception and just two touchdowns. Four of ASU’s receivers average more than 10 yards per catch, which indicates that the Cougar defense could be in for a long stay at First Down Inn on their own turf.

ASU’s ground game is nothing to sneeze at, either. The Sun Devils are first in the Pac-12 in rushing offense and rushing touchdowns. Nine of their 11 touchdowns this season have come on run plays.

Rachaad White leads ASU in rushing attempts with 29. Daniels is behind him with 19, and leads the team in rushing yards at 176.

“From a personnel standpoint, Arizona State has a lot of speed, a lot of dynamic ability,” Lamb said. “That all starts with the backfield — their quarterback and running back. They have good players really at every position. It’s a major challenge for us.”

The 2021 iteration of BYU has allowed just 16.5 points per game after beating Arizona and Utah back-to-back. But the team’s defense seems to understand the challenge Arizona State presents.

“They have a team,” Cougars sophomore cornerback Isaiah Herron said. “They’re pretty talented. We respect every opponent we play against. Just like these guys, we’ll come in watching extensive film and breaking them down and doing what we have to do come out with a victory.”

BYU defenders naturally did not want to give away their entire game plan. But junior defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner said part of it will come down to forcing Daniels to scramble.

“Just being assignment-sound and having someone that can watch the quarterback and make sure that he’s contained and putting pressure on him, really,” Tuioti-Mariner said. “We can contain him and hopefully get those yards down so he’s not running all over us.”

But for the full scope of how the Cougars are going to combat Arizona State’s dynamic offense, fans are going to have to wait until the weekend.

“Overall, I believe in our coaches and I believe in the game plan,” Herron said. “So when Saturday comes, you’ll get the front-row seat to see how we’re going to play.”

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