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Mistakes, rain wash away Arizona on road against No. 14 Utah

Basketball season begins Monday!

arizona-wildcats-football-utah-utes-recap-stats-highlights-pac12-turnovers-jedd-fisch-2022 Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Though the wins haven’t been there since early October, a little bit of progress could be seen in each of Arizona’s games during its current gauntlet of tough opponents. Not this time.

A neverending series of self-inflicted wounds, as well as several questionable play calls, combined with unfavorable playing conditions to produce the Wildcats’ worst performance of the season in a 45-20 loss to No. 14 Utah on a rainy Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Arizona (3-6, 1-5) turned it over four times, all fumbles, and actually put the ball on the ground seven times. It also had a punt go out of bounds at its own 37, another drive end in plus territory after going for it on 4th and 20 and went deep on 3rd and inches from its own 11, while choosing to kick a red zone field goal down 21 after passing on a longer attempt when it was only a 7-point game.

Put that all together and the Wildcats had their fewest points in Pac-12 play despite holding a yardage advantage at halftime. It was Utah (7-2, 5-1) that was up 28-10 at the break, though, thanks to a massive edge in starting field position that remained sizable the whole game, and led by as many as 35.

Utah’s average starting spot was its own 43-yard line, compared to Arizona’s own 21.

While Arizona lost a fourth consecutive game, all to teams currently or previously ranked in the Top 15 of the Associated Press poll, a couple streaks did end. The Wildcats got their first sack and first takeaways (two) since their last win against Colorado on Oct. 1, though neither second-half fumble recovery resulted in points.

After gaining 249 yards in the first half, including 174 in the first quarter, the UA only produced 140 yards in the second half—most of that coming in garbage time—and didn’t score until getting 10 points in the final 2:31. Utah finished with 457 yards overall including 306 on the ground, the third UA opponent to top 300 rushing yards.

Arizona allowed 45 points for the fifth time this season, all in Pac-12 play, tied for most in school history with the 2003 and 2015 squads.

Jayden de Laura had a touchdown run but was just 10 of 20 for 159 yards through the air, and he also lost two fumbles. The other two were by Jacob Cowing, one on a muffed punt in the second quarter and the other at the end of a catch in the fourth after which he had to be helped off the field.

Cowing had five catches for 29 yards and Tetairoa McMillan had four receptions for 78 yards and a TD thrown by fellow Servite High School alum Noah Fifta, who was 5 of 10 for 72 yards and a TD in relief of de Laura. But Dorian Singer, after hauling in three TD passes last week against USC, was held to one catch for nine yards.

Unlike all previous games this season, it took a little while for scoring to happen. That’s because Arizona turned it over on its first possession, when de Laura couldn’t handle a high snap and Utah fell on the loose ball, thought the Wildcats forced the Utes to punt after the takeaway.

Utah broke the drought on its second possession when, after Kyle Ostendorp’s punt from the end zone went out of bounds at the UA 37, it took advantage of the short field and went up 7-0 on a 7-yard jet sweep by Jaylen Dixon.

Arizona responded almost immediately, in effect scoring two TDs on the next drive. The first was on a 58-yard run by Michael Wiley, who hit the pylon as he fell backwards along the sideline, but officials determined on review he was out at the 1-yard line. The reason: his left hand touched the pylon before the ball.

Wiley, who finished with 105 scrimmage yards on just eight touches, lost two yards on the next play, but de Laura scored from three yards out on a delayed draw to tie it at 7.

Utah went 75 yards in 11 plays to go up 14-7, capped by an 8-yard TD run from third-string QB Nate Johnson. Arizona responded by going deep into the run playbook to get inside the Utah 25 as the first quarter ended, but when the second period began everything went to heck.

De Laura was sacked on first down, forced to throw it away on second and then couldn’t connect with Tanner McLachlan on 3rd and 20. Jedd Fisch opted to go for it from the Utah 34, only to see de Laura take another sack.

Five plays (all runs) later, Utah was up 21-7 on a Ja’Quinden Jackson 2-yard run.

The UA’s second fumble did result in points for Utah. Cowing tried to field a punt over his shoulder in the rain but muffed it, with the Utes recovering at the 9, and Johnson ran it in on the next play to make it 28-7.

The Wildcats got a 30-yard field goal from Tyler Loop with 44 seconds before halftime, this time taking the points instead of going for it in plus territory, to make it an 18-point game at the break.

Arizona continues a 2-game road swing next Saturday when it visits No. 12 UCLA. A start time and TV info has yet to be announced.