The Arizona Wildcats find themselves in another critical matchup this week. After capturing a much-needed victory against the California Golden Bears, the Wildcats will travel to Salt Lake City for a showdown with the Utah Utes. This will be a shortened week of preparation for both teams.
The game will be played on Friday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. PT. The game will be aired on ESPN.
2018 Record - 3-2 (1-2)
- Week 1 win vs. Weber State (41-10)
- Week 2 win at Northern Illinois (17-6)
- Week 3 loss vs. Washington (21-7)
- Week 5 loss at Washington State (28-24)
- Week 6 win at No. 14 Stanford (40-21)
Key Offensive Players - Tyler Huntley (QB), Zack Moss (RB), Britain Covey (WR), Jackson Barton (LT)
Key Defensive Players - Bradlee Anae (DE), Chase Hansen (LB), Cody Barton (LB), Julian Blackmon (CB)
Utah is coming off a very impressive win at Stanford. Bryce Love did not play, but the Utes never trailed in the game. It was a much needed victory to keep their divisional championship hopes alive.
Sitting at 1-2 in conference play, this is a must win game for Kyle Whittingham and the Utes. Falling to 1-3 is a tough hole to climb out of but 2-2 keeps them in the thick of things.
Starting quarterback Tyler Huntley isn’t having a great season but he’s also not having a terrible one. Through five games, he’s completing just shy of 63 percent of his passes for 1,020 yards and five touchdowns.
In 10 games last season, Huntley was a competent runner, tallying 168 carries for 537 yards. This season, his 12.8 carries per game are lagging compared to his 16.8 carries per game in 2017. His production is also lower, as he’s averaging 2.2 yards per carry compared to 3.2.
Junior running back Zack Moss is having a very strong year and is averaging more than 100 yards per contest. It should also be noted that he has found the end zone in every contest this season.
The receiving corps is led by sophomores Britain Covey and Samson Nucua. Covey last played in 2015 but is now back with the team after completing his LDS Mission. He currently leads the team in receptions (33) and receiving yards (354).
Nucua is second on the team with 13 receptions and 146 yards. However, he has recorded more than two receptions in a game only once.
Defensively, the Utes have quietly been one of the best in the country. Their 17.2 points allowed per game is good for 18th-best in the country and total defense is Top 10 with 296.4 yards per game.
Linebackers Chase Hansen and Cody Barton lead the team in total tackles with 43 and 37, respectively. Hansen has also recorded 10 tackles for loss.
Bradlee Anae enters this matchup with four sacks on the season. He, Hansen and Barton are big reasons why the Utes are ranked third nationally in rushing defense, allowing 75.4 yards per game.
Their secondary is headlined by junior cornerback Julian Blackmon. He earned second-team All Pac-12 last season and currently leads the team in passes defended with five. There’s no doubt he possesses the talent and frame (6-1, 190 pounds) to play at the next level but Utah’s pass defense is not as strong as their rush defense.
Utah’s pass defense allows 221 yards per game which is only 10 yards fewer than Arizona’s. They have allowed 94 completions with an average of 11.76 yards per completion.
It seems unreasonable to expect Arizona to have success against Utah’s staunch rush defense. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone won’t completely abandon the running game, but it seems the focal point of the offensive game plan needs to be the passing game.
If Arizona is able to find success in the air, this should open opportunity on the ground. How much opportunity could that create? It’s unlikely to be a lot but it could just be enough to escape with the win.
Utah also has a negative turnover margin, and we know how critical winning the turnover battle has been for the Wildcats this season.