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Utah vs. Arizona: Kyle Whittingham discusses Wildcats’ running game, Brandon Dawkins, and Shun Brown

Utah’s head coach shares his thoughts on Arizona

Utah v BYU Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats enter Friday’s game vs. the Utah Utes with the sixth-best rushing attack in college football. Utah is only allowing 49.3 rushing yards per contest.

Something will have to give.

Rich Rodriguez-coached Arizona teams are 4-1 against the Utes, with that loss coming last season in Salt Lake City when the Utes held the Wildcats to just 3.4 yards per carry.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said limiting UA’s ground game is “job No. 1” for Utah this Friday when the teams square off once again.

"They have had success, last year not so much I think it was 120 or 130 yards which is where you have to keep them if you want to win the game, but Rich [Rodriguez] has a great grasp of offensive scheme,” Whittingham said Monday in his weekly presser.

“He knows exactly what he wants to do and it starts with the run game with those guys. They run the read zone as well as anyone in the country. They have a quarterback that is an exceptional runner. That is exactly what they look for in their quarterback, the ability to be a dual threat.

“We have struggled with them. We beat them the first year and last year but then lost four in-between, so it all stems to the games we lost that we did not do a good job defending the run.”

Whittingham said Utah’s defensive end play will be especially key to slowing down Arizona’s read-option rushing attack.

“Because they put that guy in a bind so often, so they have to make the determination is the ball given, do I need to play the cutback on the running back or is it pulled and I have to play the quarterback keep and then play action off of that,” he said. “So, that is really the guy that has the most stress against Arizona in the run game are the defensive ends.

“That is going to be important and we played really well at that position last year which is one of the main reasons we had success.”

Whittingham acknowledged Utah’s linebackers will have to do their part as well, but he seems less concerned about that position group.

“The linebackers are playing well,” he said. “Sunia Tauteoli was all over the place on Saturday night and had maybe on of his best games as a Ute. Kavika Luafatasaga seems to have picked up where he left off at the end of last year. It was like a light switch went on for him about the last third of the season.

“Cody Barton and Donavan Thompson come in and give us good reps. The whole defense, there hasn't really been a spot-on defense where you say that position hasn't been up to speed. Everyone has been playing well."

Whittingham also discussed how Utah plans to handle UA dual-threat quarterback Brandon Dawkins, who is coming off the best game of his career vs. UTEP.

Dawkins, who struggled throwing the ball in UA’s first two games, was 18 for 21 for 155 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and also ran for 133 yards and three scores against the Miners.

“You have to account for him and when he drops back to pass, some teams have tried to put a spy on him and that spy better be pretty athletic because there is no point to have a spy if the spy can't make the play when it is there to be made,” Whittingham said.

“So, they have to be very conscience, the front of maintaining pass lanes and leverage on the quarterback and keeping him in that cage, because he is at his best when he escapes. So, we definitely have to be conscience of that."

Dawkins’ ability was mitigated by Utah last season, as he was 11-for-20 for 243 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions to go along with 49 rushing yards on 14 carries.

Arizona lost 36-23.

Arizona wide receiver Shun Brown is quickly becoming one of college football’s most feared returners.

The junior has returned two punts for scores this season — did you see his spin move? — a remarkable feat considering Arizona had not returned a punt for a touchdown since 2015 entering this season.

Brown also leads UA in receiving yards (126). So don’t think Utah won’t be keeping a close eye on him on Friday.

“Shun Brown’s got all of our respect,” Whittingham said in a conference call.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. MST and the game will be televised on FOX Sports 1.

Here is a more in-depth look at how the two squads stack up statistically:

via UA game notes

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire