Arizona eyes another win at No. 24 Utah

BY foxsports • October 4, 2016

Utah, coming off a disheartening loss at Cal, takes on one of its most problematic opponents this Saturday.

The Utes (4-1 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) play host to Arizona at Rice-Eccles Stadium trying to end a four-game losing streak to the Wildcats. Arizona won 37-30 in double overtime last season when Utah was ranked No. 10.

"For whatever reason, we have probably executed as well against them as with any team we've played, both home and away," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

"Our guys have been dialed in, and, particularly up there, we've gotten turnovers. Some of that is luck and some of that was good play, but to beat them you have to get turnovers. If we don't get any turnovers this game, we're going to have a tough time."

Arizona (2-3, 0-2) might be down to its third starting quarterback of the season. Anu Solomon hasn't played since suffering a knee injury in practice after the season-opener. His replacement, Brandon Dawkins, left last week's 45-24 loss at UCLA in the first half because of a rib injury. Rodriguez, as of Tuesday, had not commented on the severity of either injury.

He pulled true freshman Khalil Tate out of a redshirt year in the second half, and the four-star, dual-threat recruit looked sharp, completing 5 of 9 passes for 72 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 15 times for a team-high 79 yards.

"Sometimes, guys get in their first action and the lights are too bright, but he was spot on," Rodriguez said. "Even when he made a wrong read or something, he knew right away. That part of it was very encouraging."

Utah is trying to bounce back from a 28-23 loss at Cal, where the Utes were stopped at the goal line as time expired.

Taking care of Arizona would restore Utah's hope of winning what appears to be a wide-open Pac-12 South race, led by surprising Colorado at 2-0. The Utes' defense, Whittingham's bread and butter, faces an Arizona team that has the No. 2 running game in the Pac-12 at 246 yards per game.

Utah defended the run well last year in Tucson, allowing Arizona only 158 yards, but it has had problems with Rodriguez's up-tempo, zone-read, spread offense. Utah has allowed an average of 269 rushing yards in its four-game skid to the Wildcats.

"We've been watching the last four years of film and last year, we did the best job, but they have gashed us," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

"Structurally, there's only so much you can do with how many guys are in the box. It's a lot like playing Air Force. It's assignment football with the read option, and we're just going to have to do a better job of playing assignment football."

Injuries could play a key role Saturday.

In addition to Arizona's uncertain quarterback position, starting running back Nick Wilson has only eight carries in the past three games because of an ankle injury. The tailback spot is so decimated that Tyrell Johnson, converted from slot receiver two weeks ago, had 16 carries vs. UCLA.

The Wildcats were also down three starting offensive linemen in the second half against the Bruins, and at least two starters on defense.

Utah, meanwhile, played against Cal without standout defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei and receiver Cory Butler-Byrd. The Utes also lost leading receiver Tim Patrick, center J.J. Dielman, cornerback Reggie Porter and receiver Kyle Fulks during the game.

Dielman, a team captain and 2015 all-conference honoree, is lost for the season with a lower leg injury.

Per his policy, Whittingham didn't offer any other updates on injured players during the weekly press conference.

Utah's best path to victory might be to attack a smallish Arizona defense on the ground. The Utes' by-committee approach includes true freshman Zack Moss and sophomore Armand Shyne. Moss has team highs of 66 carries and 309 yards, despite not playing in the season opener against Southern Utah.

The physical approach in the run game helps open things up for quarterback Troy Williams, who is one of only two Pac-12 quarterbacks this season with six completions of 40 yards or longer. He has not thrown an interception in Pac-12 games against USC and Cal.

Utah stayed in the Top 25 after its loss last week and now it will be trying to stay in the Pac-12 South race.

"I don't think anyone in the division is going to go undefeated. It's very competitive," Whittingham said.

"Two losses should win it, and we have seen it happen with three losses. The bottom line is that our destiny is still in our hands and there's a ton of football left so we have to find a way to beat Arizona."

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