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5 Utah players to watch vs. Arizona

Which players will be game changers on Friday night?

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are playing one of their two Friday night games this week, as they head to Salt Lake City for the weeknight showdown with the Utah Utes.

Utah just pulled off an impressive win over a suddenly reeling Stanford, and look to join Colorado and USC as presumptive frontrunners in the still wide open South Division.

Here’s who can make that vision a reality for the Utes on Friday.

Tyler Huntley, QB

Coming into the season, Huntley was expected to take a massive leap forward in his junior year. While the leap hasn’t been massive, Huntley has helped keep Utah dangerous nonetheless.

Huntley is a dual-threat quarterback originally from south Florida, who’s made his impact known on the Utes. In his first season as the undisputed starter, Huntely is completing 62.4% of his passes, has recorded 994 yards, and has five touchdowns to two interceptions. On the ground, he has recorded 143 yards on 64 carries, with 13 of those being sacks that count against his running yardage. Huntley really showed his promise against Stanford, completing 17 of his 21 passes for 199 yards, along with 23 yards on the ground.

With the Arizona defense stepping up against Cal, Huntley will be the deciding factor on whether Utah’s often anemic offense can bust through the Wildcat opposition.

Zack Moss, RB

Huntley’s one truly dangerous weapon is his running back Zack Moss, who’s gashed all Utah’s opponents so far.

Moss’ stats thus far show his usefulness in the Utah offense which is still finding its rhythm. Moss has rushed 95 times this season, racking up an impressive 549 yards on those carries for an average of 5.8 yards per carry. Again, the Stanford game was by far Moss’s most productive game of the season, as he rushed for 160 yards on 20 carries, scoring two touchdowns.

For Huntley’s passing game to be effective, the defense will need to respect Moss, and if Moss can keep up his production, that shouldn’t be a problem for the Utes.

Chase Hansen, LB

Hansen is an incredible linebacker, but beyond that he has one of the most interesting stories that isn’t told in the Pac-12.

Hansen is a member of the recruiting class of 2012, meaning he is now 25 years old. Recruited as an athlete, he was redshirted in 2012 as a quarterback, before leaving to serve on a church mission for the Church of LDS. Returning in 2015, Hansen played mostly on defense as a safety, while still being featured on offense occasionally.

In 2016 and 2017, Hansen played almost exclusively as a defensive back, with 90 tackles in 2016 and 51 last year before he was injured in Game 8. This season, Hansen has been moved forward to linebacker. The transition has borne many fruits for both Hansen and the already impressive Ute defense. Leading the team in tackles with 43, including three sacks, plus he had a pick-six against Northern Illinois.

Hansen will without a doubt be the most disruptive player on the field at Rice-Eccles on Friday, and he’ll play a key part in the Arizona offense vs. Utah defense duel.

Cody Barton, LB

Barton may not compare to Hansen in terms of narrative value in his career, but he does match his fellow linebacker in production.

Barton is also a senior, but is a member of the 2015 recruiting class, not 2012. He’s also spent his whole Ute career as a linebacker, and has done a great job of it. The only player even remotely close to Hansen in terms of tackles in 2018 (he has 38), Barton has also recorded half of a sack and two passes defensed. The pair of Hansen and Barton, both seniors and with lots of game experience in the Utah defense, has terrorized opponents all season, and it’s unlikely that will stop against a struggling Arizona offense.

Mitch Wishnowsky, P

Already a punting legend both in Utah and college football, Wishnowsky is looking to make his mark in his senior season.

As with many great punters, Wishnowsky is a product of Australia, and kicks in the distinctive style of Australian punters. The legend of Wishnowsky began in his sophomore season when he averaged 47.7 yards per punt. He was awarded the Ray Guy Award that season, given to the best college punter in the nation.

In 2017, Wishnowsky’s numbers dipped to an average of 43.9 yards on each punt. Now, in 2018, Wishnowsky has stuck close to his junior numbers with an average of 44.0, but is still hoping to reach his 2016 numbers before seasons end.

Thanks to a suspect Utah offense and the high elevation at Rice-Eccles, Wishnowsky may have a huge impact on Friday’s game, especially if Arizona is unable to piece together long drives.