In midst of winning streak, Arizona heads to Utah
All hope seemed lost for Arizona after two games, but following a Week 6 win, the Wildcats are back to .500.
Arizona’s 24-17 win over Cal improved the Wildcats to 3-3, and with the win, they have won three of their last four games.
The Wildcats allowed a combined 104 points in their first three games, but since then, the defense has held opponents under 25 points every game. Against Cal, the defense even forced two pick-sixes.
Offensively, the Wildcats weren’t very productive, combining for only 265 total yards. That being said, the Wildcats committed fewer unforced errors on offense than Cal, winning the turnover 2-4.
Next up for Arizona is a Friday night game against Utah, which recently routed Stanford on the road.
What: Arizona at Utah
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Can Arizona continue its defensive improvement?
After three woeful games to start the season, Arizona’s defense has looked like a whole new unit since the Oregon State game. Sure, Arizona allowed 476 yards to the Golden Bears last week, but even so, the Wildcats forced four turnovers and utilized a bend-but-don’t-break defense, giving up just 17 points.
Additionally, linebacker Colin Schooler has established himself as one of the Pac-12’s premier defenders, and against Cal, he recorded nine tackles, a tackle for a loss and an interception, which was returned for 50 yards. Schooler leads the conference in tackles for a loss with 11.5 and is second in total tackles with 66.
“He’s playing about as well as anybody,” Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “He’s one of the best players in the country.”
This week, the unit faces the tall task of stopping a Utah offense filled with weapons. The Utes torched Stanford’s defense and scored 40 points last week, largely because of their prolific rushing attack.
Will Utah capitalize on Arizona’s mistakes?
A week ago, Utah’s defense terrorized the Stanford offense by forcing four turnovers, three of which came from quarterback K.J. Costello. Utah will have another chance to win the turnover margin Friday against an Arizona offense that has been inconsistent throughout the season.
Utah’s defense is second in the conference in points allowed per game (17.2) and first in yards allowed per game (296.4), which poses a tall task for Arizona’s offense.
“They’re the No. 1 defense in the league statistically,” Sumlin said. “They play well together.”
How will Noel Mazzone run the offense?
Though Tate still hasn’t found his groove in the running game, Arizona’s offense has looked much sharper since the Week 3 win over Southern Utah.
The Wildcats are now in the top half of the conference in yards per game, averaging 445.3. Much of this is because of the Wildcats’ ability to run the ball, for they are third in the conference with 201.8 rushing yards per game.
However, it may be harder to run the ball this week.
Utah’s run defense is first in the conference, allowing just 75.4 yards on the ground per game. Most recently, Utah held Stanford to 42 rushing yards and forced two fumbles in the win.
QB Khalil Tate
Because of Utah’s elite run defense, Arizona will likely be forced to rely on Tate in the passing game. Tate threw for 141 yards with a touchdown and an interception against Cal, completing 15 of 25 pass attempts.
Last week, Tate ran for 40 yards on eight carries, a new season high, but he likely won’t be able to use his legs extensively against Utah’s stingy defense.
LB Colin Schooler
As previously mentioned, Schooler has been a defensive catalyst this year and is one of the best defenders in college football.
On the other end, Utah has a strong rushing attack led by quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss. Schooler will need to have a big game and swarm the line of scrimmage to minimize the Utes’ production in the backfield.
QB Tyler Huntley
Although he is widely known for his abilities to expose teams with his legs, Huntley was consistent in Utah’s win over Stanford. The junior threw for 199 yards and a touchdown, while completing 17 of 21 pass attempts.
This season, Huntley has thrown for 1020 yards, five touchdowns and just two interceptions.
RB Zack Moss
Moss stands third in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game with 109.8, and he had a field day against Stanford. Moss hit pay dirt twice and ran for 160 yards in the win, which was his new season high.
Arizona allowed 161 rushing yards to Cal in Week 6, and whether or not the Wildcats can stop Moss and the Utah run game may go a long way in deciding the outcome of this game.