On Thursday, Jedd Fisch said Utah was the program that he hoped to model is Arizona one after. Two days later, the Utes gave the Wildcats an up-close look at how much they need to do to get there.
And maybe it’s not as far as it looked a few weeks ago.
The UA came close to following up a 20-game losing streak with a 2-game win streak, instead falling 38-29 to Utah on Saturday afternoon at Arizona Stadium.
Arizona (1-9, 1-6 Pac-12) led twice in the first half but couldn’t catch Utah (7-3, 6-1) after it took a 21-17 halftime lead, its offense unable to maintain an early pace and its defense worn down by the Utes’ physical front. That was particularly evident during a game-clinching 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive by Utah that took 8:24 off the clock in the fourth quarter, turning a 2-point game into a 9-point edge.
A Senior Day crowd of 32,008 saw the UA do a fairly good job against Utah’s run game, at least on the interior, but quarterback Cam Rising picked the Wildcat defense apart with a mix of timely screen and swing passes and the occasional deep shot. He threw for 294 yards and two TDs on 19-of-30 passing, the most any opposing quarterback has had against Arizona this season.
Arizona was outgained 468-329, and after producing 137 yards and two TDs in the first quarter its managed only 192 yards and three field goals. The UA had four trips into the Utah red zone but managed only 13 points, with its TD coming on the first visit.
Will Plummer threw for 219 yards and a TD on 18-of-32 passing and ran for 50 yards on 10 carries, including a 43-yard scoring run. The Wildcats finished with only 102 rushing yards, while freshman walk-on Dorian Singer led all receivers with five catches for 84 yards.
Down 21-17 at the half, Arizona pulled within a point on a 31-yard field goal by Tyler Loop with 11:33 left in the third. The Wildcats threw their way to 1st-and-goal before stalling.
Utah extended the edge back to 24-20 with 6:58 left on a 30-yard Jadon Redding field goal, a win for Arizona’s defense after it gave up a 43-yard reception on a screen during another blitz. The Wildcats went 3-and-out on their next drive, though, and the Utes capitalized to build a 2-score lead on Dalton Kincaid’s 17-yard TD catch from Rising to make it 31-20 with 2:57 left in the third.
Loop’s second field goal, a 22-yarder, made it 31-23 with 11:31 left. The Wildcats had 1st-and-goal at the 6 after a second roughing the passer penalty on Plummer but once again came up short close to the end zone.
Arizona got a much-needed 3-and-out then blocked the ensuing punt, with walk-on Nazar Bombata getting his second block of the season while Rhedi Short picked up the loose ball and returned it 3 yards for the TD. The Wildcats failed on their 2-point try, a double reserve that went nowhere, to trail 31-29 with 10:34 left.
It was the UA’s first punt block for a TD since Orlando Vargas did so against ASU in 2009.
Arizona couldn’t get one more stop, though, as Utah converted on a 4th-and-1 near midfield and a 3rd-and-6 on yet another rollout to a wide open target. The final blow was a face mask penalty against backup safety Isaiah Mays with less than three minutes left, setting up the second TD run of the day by TJ Pledger with 2:10 left to make it 38-29.
Pledger ran for 119 yards and two scores on 25 carries, getting the bulk of the work with Utah sitting leading rushing Tavion Thomas for precautionary reasons.
Utah methodically drove down the field on its opening drive of the game, scoring on an 11-yard run by Rising. The Utes countered an all-out Arizona blitz on 3rd and 6 midway through the drive with a screen pass to running back Micah Bernard that went for 17 yards.
Arizona matched that score on its first drive, getting a 43-yard TD run by Plummer on 4th and 5. The Wildcats called timeout before the play after both the offense and punt teams were on the field at one point, then shortly after getting the shotgun snap Plummer took off and raced up the middle of the field untouched for the longest TD run by a UA QB since Khalil Tate had a 57-yard TD run against Stanford in 2019.
The Wildcats went up 14-7 with 1:41 left in the first quarter on a 6-yard TD catch by Michael Wiley from Plummer, who had just come back into the game after Jamarye Joiner converted a 3rd-and-short with a pass and then ran for 14 to set up Wiley’s score.
Utah evened it up on the first play of the second quarter on a 15-yard run by Pledger, capping a drive that took only 106 seconds to go 75 yards.
Arizona took a 17-14 lead with 1:24 left in the first half on a 57-yard field goal by Lucas Havrisik, tying his career best and the school record, but Utah went ahead 21-17 with two seconds left on a 2-yard TD catch by Brant Kuithe. That score came one play after Christian Young was called for pass interference in the end zone on 3rd and goal.
The Wildcats hit the road for their final two games of 2021, starting with a Friday trip to Washington State. Arizona has not won in Pullman since 2014.