On the heels of five straight losses and with just two games remaining in the 2019 season, it’s officially now or never for the Arizona Wildcats (4-6, 2-5) as they get set to host Pac-12 South leaders—and the No. 7 team in the country—Utah this weekend.
After a 34-6 drubbing against No. 6 Oregon their last time out, the Cats need to win their final two games if they are to make a bowl game in either of Kevin Sumlin’s first two years at the helm — first against the Utes (9-1, 6-1) on Saturday and then up the road in Tempe against ASU next week.
Coming into what will be a senior day clash for Arizona against Utah, Sumlin is now just 9-13 through his first 22 games in Tucson.
Ahead of the 8 p.m. MST kickoff, we spoke with several UA players on what they’ve seen from the Utes so far, trying to end the program’s losing streak, emotions heading into senior day and more.
Here’s the best of what was said.
Arizona cornerback Jace Whittaker on if it’s hit him that he’ll be playing his last home game at Arizona Stadium: “Not necessarily, I just started thinking about it when you guys start asking questions, but it’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be bittersweet for sure and filled with a lot of emotion. But at the end of the day we’ve just got to go out there and play football.”
Whittaker on his best Khalil Tate memory as the QB gets set to play his last home game in Tucson as well: “We won some pretty big games with him and I’ve seen him go out there and succeed. He’s my brother, so anytime he goes out there and and does his thing I’m more than happy and I hope I can see some more of that this weekend.”
Arizona running back J.J. Taylor on Utah’s defense: “They’re a really good defense and we’re just hoping to come out and compete with them and make a statement. They’re a very disciplined team though, they play hard, play fast, and they don’t really make a lot of mistakes.”
Taylor on running behind a banged up offensive line: “You do get used to the people that are in front of you, you get used to their tendencies and then to have to go with somebody else, you just got to figure it out. Figure out the ways they like to block and things like that.”
Taylor on if Saturday will be his last home game as a Wildcat: “I’m hoping so, that’s the plan. I mean, it wasn’t really a hard decision. If I have my opportunity, I’m going to take it. That’s where I stand. It will be emotional though.”
Arizona cornerback Lorenzo Burns on the Utes’ receiving corps: “They have some pretty good receivers and I played against a couple of them last year. One of them, Brian Thompson, is from Rancho Verde back home, so I know him pretty well. But they’re big and they’re pretty good and they have a good team overall. I think that they have strong running backs too and if we don’t capitalize on turnovers or we don’t limit the mistakes on the field, then it’s going to be a long game for us. But I think we’ll be fine.”
Burns on how he is feeling going into senior night: “It’s very, very exciting. Just having the opportunity to step on the field, for the last home game and to have my family stepping on the field with me, it’s been four years, and it goes by just like that, so starting from a freshman here to now being a senior, this is a big moment for me.”
Burns on what he feels the defensive keys are to ending the Wildcats five-game skid: “Just eliminate mistakes, have better communication throughout the whole team, especially the defense. If you can eliminate mistakes and you communicate better than everything else you can pretty much control.”
Arizona defensive tackle Finton Connolly on what he’s seen from Utah’s offensive line: “They’re very, very big dudes. So, from a D-line’s perspective, we just got to be quicker and faster than them. And as I say all the time, we’ve got to get a pass rush and we’ve got to get pressure on that quarterback so we can help our secondary. Having a good pass rush on third downs too, so we can get to (Tyler) Huntley and put pressure on him.”
Connolly on his emotions heading into his final game at Arizona Stadium: “I’m probably going to cry to be honest. Walking out that tunnel for one more time. That’s probably going to be my biggest emotion, but my dad will be there too and I have a bunch of other family friends coming in so yeah, it’s awesome and I can’t wait. I’m excited to play for them.”
Connolly on if an upset is more likely on such an emotional day line a senior night: “I don’t think it’s so much about senior night and all that. I think we know that it’s pretty much our last opportunity, and we have nothing really to lose and guys want to send the seniors off the right way. We can’t take them as, ‘oh their Utah, their number seven now.’ As a ranked opponent they’re not invincible like everyone likes to think they are. They’re a beatable team and I think we can do it.”
Arizona linebacker Tony Fields II on the keys to springing an upset against Utah: “We’ve just got to come with the fire that we know we have, and our team has got to come ready to go. Utah’s not doing anything else that we haven’t seen before this far in the season. I mean, all the Pac-12 teams are pretty much the same and they’ve got a lot of the same games as us. We’ve just got to process and get ready.”
Fields on watching the departing seniors play their last home game this weekend: “It’s going to be pretty fun, but it’s going to be pretty sad too. Just to see some of the guys that I actually came in with when they were freshmen, when I was a freshman somewhat when I came in the spring, they all taught me a lot of stuff, like new places to eat here, stuff like that. So there’s a lot of guys that’s on the team that I’ve been around for a while that’s graduating now. It’s definitely sad.”
Fields on if he will declare for the NFL Draft after the season: “As of right now, I’m going to leave that as an unknown. I just want to finish the season and let’s see where we go from there.”
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Cody Creason on being out with an ankle injury: “It’s been really hard for me personally because I realized that I could help the team if I was healthy. Just sitting there, watching everyone get hurt and realizing that I can’t do anything about it is pretty hard for me.”
Creason on the hardest part of the losing streak: “I’d probably say the morale of the team. You try not to get too down, but you kind of feel it when we had a lot of success in the beginning here and there was a bunch of energy going through the program. Now you’re in a losing streak so no one’s really happy with what’s going on, there’s a lot of frustration.”
Creason on his favorite memory at Arizona: “I’d probably say that the ASU game my redshirt freshman year. We threw like two passes the entire game. That was probably my most fun game in my career.”