Khalil Tate got knocked out after two series, Arizona’s defense played poorly, and things quickly spiraled out of hand, as the Wildcats were routed 42-10 by the Utah Utes on Friday night in Salt Lake City.
Arizona, which falls to 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12, trailed 28-0 at halftime and 35-0 at one point in the third quarter.
With Tate out with an ankle injury, Jamarye Joiner and Rhett Rodriguez both got opportunities to lead the offense and, predictably, it did not go well against the conference’s best defense.
Rodriguez, who entered after Joiner struggled in two series, was the most competent QB of the bunch. The sophomore was 20 for 38 for 226 yards and showed a nice grasp of the offense, making a legitimate case to be the starter next week at UCLA.
Rodriguez threw his first career touchdown — a 42-yard strike to Cedric Peterson deep down the near sideline — to make it 35-10 with 13:23 left in the fourth.
“I was concerned about (Tate) not being able to move at all. Running was out of the question, and even dropping back and handing it off. So, we’re always going to start with player safety first,” said Coach Kevin Sumlin. “We had an opportunity with Rhett. We gave him a shot to run the team in the two-minute offense to end the half, and he did move the team, and that earned him the right to start the second half.
“I thought that in a tough situation he operated with poise, he looked comfortable. In a tough situation and in a really tough environment, I thought he handled it very, very well and was mature. We gave him an opportunity because of his maturity, because of where he is. He didn’t do anything to take himself out of the game. He operated pretty well with the situation that he was in.”
Arizona’s defense, which generated four turnovers and two touchdowns last week against Cal, experienced a hard crash back to Earth.
Utah scored TDs on four of its first five drives, and finished with 495 yards to UA’s 318.
The Wildcats whiffed on a countless number of tackles and blew several coverages. Utah was 5-for-13 on third down and 3-for-3 on fourth down. Two fourth-down conversions came near the UA goal line and resulted in rushing scores — one for tailback Zack Moss and one for quarterback Tyler Huntley.
Huntley, rarely under duress, was efficient, completing 14 of 19 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 67 yards on 11 carries and had a TD catch.
Arizona linebacker Colin Schooler — who else? — picked off an errant Huntley pass in the third quarter and returned it for 33 yards into Utah territory.
He did not fumble this time, but Arizona was stopped on 4th-and-1 on its ensuing drive when Rodriguez threw the ball away under some serious pressure. The Wildcats were 1-for-5 on fourth downs.
Arizona’s QBs were feeling the heat all night. Utah dominated a UA O-line that was forced to reshuffle after Layth Friekh departed early (likely because of his recurring ankle problems).
The Utes had five sacks and several QB hits. They dominated the running game, too. The Wildcats only logged 72 rushing yards, 19 of which came on a run by J.J. Taylor, who had 61 yards on 13 carries.
Josh Pollack made a 37-yard field goal early in the third quarter to put Arizona on the board and cut the deficit to 35-3.
The redshirt senior missed a 34-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the second quarter. Down by four TDs, the Wildcats curiously opted to send Pollack out there instead of taking a shot at the end zone first.
Tempers flared on the Arizona sideline in the fourth quarter when Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky ran for 28 yards and was horse-collared out of bounds.
But if there is anything the Wildcats should be upset about, it’s the way they played.
Utah backup running back Armand Shyne, who played a majority of the second half, ran for a 22-yard touchdown on the very next play.
”Everybody has got to take ownership and responsibility. That starts with me,” Sumlin said. “Like earlier in the year, when these situations come up, there’s not a lot you can do about this, but you don’t want this performance bleeding into the rest of the season ... We need to fix the things we can, and then continue playing with effort, and put our best people on the field who can give us a chance to win.”