With a new coach, a remodeled stadium and a national audience watching via ESPN, the University of Arizona football team got off to a slow, painful start in their opening game versus the Brigham Young University Cougars, losing 28-23.
An announced crowd of 51,002 showed up to cheer on the Wildcats and their new head coach, Kevin Sumlin. For the first time, beer and wine welcomed the cheering crowds into Arizona Stadium, with concessions stands offering up the beverages through the end of the third quarter.
The atmosphere was set for an opening night to remember. The Wildcats, however, seemed lethargic from the start.
After an opening quarter where both teams' defenses dominated, the scoring began in earnest in the second quarter. The Cougars, led by redshirt senior quarterback Tanner Mangum, took the ball 59 yards down the field and ended in a one-yard run for a touchdown by running back Squally Canada.
The 'Cats answered back, with redshirt junior quarterback Khalil Tate using his arm to advance the 'Cats down the field for consecutive drives, the first culminating in a 24-yard field goal from Lucas Havrisik and the second a 15-yard touchdown pass from Tate to wide receiver Tony Ellison to close the half. At that point, Arizona lead 10-7.
Unfortunately, that lead and momentum did not carry over to the second half.
Those two drives would be the extent of Arizona's offense until the 13:29 mark of the fourth quarter, as the Cougars scored 21 unanswered third-quarter points. Tate, the preseason Heisman Trophy-hopeful, waltzed into the end zone on a two-yard run to make it 28-17 in favor of BYU.
Tate would lead a drive for another touchdown with three minutes left to play in the fourth quarter to make it interesting, but BYU running backs Canada, Matt Hadley and Beau Hoge put the game away by keeping the ball on the ground to run the clock out.
As one of six quarterbacks used by BYU last year, Mangum was steady and dependable on the night, completing 18 of 28 passes and rushing for 209 yards on the evening.
On the other end of the spectrum — and win/loss column — was Tate. In a preseason marked by Sports Illustrated covers and coveted passing academy invitations, Tate had taken to being the team's leader and face.
“I saw some good things and some bad things," Tate said after the game. "
Against a stingy BYU defense, he was ordinary, completing 17 of 34 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown. The Cougars also limited Tate on the ground, where Tate excelled last year, to just 14 yards on eight carries — a far cry from the 327 yards (an FBS record) he carried against Colorado last season.
With the loss, the Wildcats move to 0-1 on the year. UA's next game will be Saturday, Sept. 8 at the University of Houston, which beat Rice University in its season-opening game on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tucson time on ABC or ESPN2.
Follow Eddie Celaya on Twitter