No. 19 Arizona beats No. 16 Utah behind fast start
Nov 18, 2023, 4:23 PM
(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Noah Fifita threw for two touchdowns and No. 19 Arizona used a fast start to beat No. 16 Utah 42-18 on Saturday for its first five-game winning streak in nine years.
The Wildcats (8-3, 6-2 Pac-12, No. 17 CFP) manhandled the two-time reigning Pac-12 champions from the opening drive, building a 28-0 lead by the first play of the second quarter.
Utah (7-4, 4-4) tightened up after that despite playing without three of its best defensive players, but Arizona’s defense was just as good in the final Pac-12 game at Arizona Stadium.
The Wildcats intercepted passes by Bryson Barnes twice in their own end and forced a turnover on downs near midfield to beat four AP Top 25 teams in a season for the first time since 1989.
Fifita threw for 253 yards on 22-od-30 passing against a Utah defense missing rover Karene Reid, safety Cole Bishop and defensive end Jonah Elliss.
Still in the mix for a spot in the Pac-12 championship game, the Wildcats charged out of the gate like they still had something to play for.
The Utes, out of the running for a third straight Pac-12 title, did not.
Arizona revved up an already-charged crowd by scoring on its opening drive with a trick play. Receiver Tetairoa McMillan caught a backward pass from Fifta and threw to a wide-open Michael Wiley for a 21-yard touchdown.
Anthony Ward then juked a blocker, smothered Jack Bouwmeester’s punt and returned it two yards for another score. Montana Lemonious-Craig’s 32-yard touchdown on a sideline pass made it 21-0 in game’s first 11 minutes.
The Wildcats weren’t done. Wiley turned another sideline pass into a 31-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
Jacob Manu spoiled Utah’s first sustained drive with an interception at Arizona’s 10, but Barnes regrouped and found Devaughn Vele on a 20-yard touchdown pass to pull the Utes within 28-7 at halftime.
Neither offense could gain much traction until Noah Coleman bounced outside for a 1-yard touchdown that put Arizona up 35-10 in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats’ stellar start provided the cushion they needed when the offense stagnated in the second half. Arizona will likely move up in next week’s AP Top 25 after reaching eight wins for the first time since going 10-4 in 2014.