Any talk by Utah about a possible run at the national title or even the Pac-12 championship won’t be happening this week.
That’s because its next opponent is a team that has absolutely shredded the Utes the last three years.
Arizona has seen a running back top 200 yards in each game of its win streak over No. 10 Utah, though it has largely used a committee this year to produce the conference’s second-best rushing attack heading into Saturday night’s matchup in Tucson.
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Utah (8-1, 5-1) leads the South Division by one game over No. 18 UCLA and Southern California. The Utes have lost to the Trojans and have a home showdown with the Bruins next week.
It’s unlikely the Utes will be looking ahead to that one. That’s not just because of coach-speak even though the struggling Wildcats (5-5, 2-5) have lost three straight and yielded 45 touchdowns – the most in the conference.
It’s because Arizona has totaled 918 rushing yards and 10 scores on the ground in winning three straight in this series – all by double digits.
"They’ve had our number the last three years," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "There’s no chance of us overlooking these guys. We have to be at our best. They’ve beaten us three years in a row and they’re a team that’s very dangerous."
Whittingham has reminded his team how Ka’Deem Carey rushed for 204 yards in the Wildcats’ 34-24 win in 2012 and 232 in a 35-24 victory the next season. That set the stage for Nick Wilson to rush for 218 yards and three scores in last year’s 42-10 rout at Utah.
"They came into our house and just owned us, they really came prepared, they really came to play," linebacker Gionni Paul said.
Arizona averages 244.5 rushing yards. Wilson has 691, second-string quarterback Jerrard Randall has 683 and Jared Baker has 622, with that trio combining for 19 touchdowns.
Randall gets some snaps at quarterback behind Anu Solomon, who has thrown for 16 TDs and 2,061 yards. Whittingham said it is difficult to prepare for both.
The Wildcats’ zone-read scheme will pose a challenge for a Utah team limiting foes to 114.3 rushing yards per game for the conference’s best mark under new defensive coordinator John Pease.
"They’re mixing their fronts up a little bit more this year," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "They’re still pressure oriented at times. They’ll still challenge you with a lot of man coverage as I said. That’s not unlike what they did last year."
One thing Utah would like to establish is the running game with Devontae Booker, who leads the nation with 234 rushing attempts. Booker carried 34 times for 150 yards in last Saturday’s 34-23 win at Washington, with 104 yards after halftime.
"That’s just how it’s always been," Booker said. "When I played in Pop Warner, in high school and even now, the more carries I get, the stronger and stronger I get."
Booker has topped 1,100 yards for the second straight year. He gained 142 last season against the Wildcats.
Arizona’s frustration grew after blowing an early 14-point lead in last Saturday’s 38-30 loss at USC. Solomon threw for a season-high 352 yards with three TDs after going two straight games without a scoring pass.
"Anu made some nice throws, but I don’t think it was his best game," Rodriguez said. "There are a lot of things that he could play better at, but he gave us a chance and competed."
Arizona is the only Pac-12 opponent that Utah senior quarterback Travis Wilson hasn’t beaten. Wilson has thrown for 469 yards with four TDs and four interceptions in the first three meetings.
The Utes will be without safety Chase Hansen for the rest of the season due to a leg injury suffered last Saturday.
The Wildcats haven’t dropped four straight conference games since an 0-4 start in 2011.