The chances of the Arizona Wildcats making a bowl game this season had been dwindling by the week since mid-October. On Saturday night, they officially vanished.
Arizona managed only 196 yards in its home finale, seven fewer than Utah’s Zack Moss managed himself on the ground, in falling 35-7 to the seventh-ranked Utes on Saturday night before an abysmal Senior Night crowd at Arizona Stadium.
“What we wanted for our seniors tonight didn’t happen,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said.
The loss dropped the Wildcats, who have lost six straight games, to 4-7 overall and 2-6 in Pac-12 play, and clinched a second-straight season without a bowl bid. The last time Arizona went back-to-back seasons without a postseason appearance was 2006-07.
Grant Gunnell’s 7-yard TD run with 1:50 left prevented Arizona from being shut out for the first time since 2012.
Utah (10-1, 7-1) gained 297 of its 517 yards on the ground, with four of its five touchdowns coming via the run. Moss, whose 203 yards came on 26 carries, is the first player to top the 200-yard mark against Arizona since Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay in 2017.
“He’s a big, physical running back,” linebacker Colin Schooler said of Moss. “He’s got a lot of tools he can use.”
Arizona somehow only found itself down 14-0 at the half despite being outgained 291-56, recording three first downs (to 16 for Utah) and possessing the ball for less than eight minutes. A pair of fourth-down stops in the second quarter kept the deficit from being bigger.
Utah scored on its first two possessions of the second half to end any hope of a comeback, though Arizona’s complete inability to move the ball was just as much to blame.
All four of the Wildcats’ first-half drives resulted in punts, while their first two in the second half ended with turnovers on downs in Utah territory.
Even an interception in the end zone by Lorenzo Burns, one of 16 players who participated in pregame Senior Night festivities, couldn’t produce any results.
Gunnell started at quarterback for Arizona, with Khalil Tate taking over for the fourth drive and then starting the second half. Gunnell finished with 96 yards on 8-of-16 passing with the TD run while Tate had 39 yards on 6-of-11 passing, with .J. Taylor rushing for 33 yards on 10 carries to go with three catches for 10 yards in what was likely his final game at Arizona Stadium.
“We couldn’t really get a big play going,” said senior receiver Cedric Peterson, who had four catches for 63 yards including a 31-yard reception late in the fourth to set up Gunnell’s TD run.
Utah scored on its opening possession, after Arizona punted, going 75 yards in 11 plays with tight end Brant Kuithe scoring on a 3-yard run off a jet sweep midway through the first quarter. The drive was kept alive by a personal foul on Tony Fields II after Schooler had sacked Utah QB Tyler Huntley on third down.
The sack moved Schooler into a tie for fourth place on the school’s career tackles for loss list, his 43.5 the same number Joe Salave’a had from 1994-97.
Utah’s second TD drive didn’t need any extra help from penalties since Arizona’s defense put up little resistance. The Utes recorded first downs on five of the 10 plays, only one coming on third down, with Huntley connecting with Demari Simpkins on a 3-yard TD pass for a 14-0 lead with 0:37 left in the first quarter.
Huntley finished with 211 yards on 19-of-23 passing.
“They’re an experienced team with an experienced quarterback,” Sumlin said. “We hit him, but he always fell forward.”
Arizona’s defense stiffened on Utah’s next two drives, at least once the Utes got closer to the end zone. Fields II stopped Huntley on 4th-and-short at the Wildcat 24 with 5:52 left, then after Utah opted to go for it on 4th-and-goal at the one on the final play of the first half it was Fields and Mason combining on a stop of Moss to keep it 14-0.
Moss scored on a 41-yard run 2:10 into the third quarter to make it 21-0, then Kuithe scored on a 6-yard run to give Utah a 28-0 edge with 8:08 left in the third, and T.J. Green ran it in from 1-yard out to make it 35-0 with 12:47 left in the fourth.
Arizona wraps up the 2019 season next Saturday night in Tempe against ASU. The Wildcats will be trying to win the Territorial Cup for the first time since 2016.
“Beating ASU is the biggest game of the season,” Fields said. “It is our bowl game.”