No. 7 Utah faces Arizona with Pac-12, playoff hopes on line
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Utah has won six straight games and is very much in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff thanks to one of the nation’s top defenses that has held opponents to seven points or less on five different occasions.
It’s also becoming clear that the Utes have a dominant offense as well.
No. 7 Utah plays its next-to-last regular season game of the season Saturday when it travels to face Arizona. The Utes are a confident offensive bunch after beating UCLA 49-3 last week.
“I love what we are doing offensively,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
It’s easy to see why: Senior quarterback Tyler Huntley had an efficient performance against the Bruins, completing 14 of 18 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns. Huntley has completed 74% of his passes this season while throwing for 13 touchdowns and just one interception.
“His preparation is outstanding,” Whittingham said. “When we are in the locker room pre-game he is still in his book, preparing right up before kickoff, looking for that last little advantage.”
While Utah (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12, No. 7 CFP) is rolling, Arizona (4-6, 2-5) is struggling. The Wildcats have lost five straight games — all by double digits — including last week’s 34-6 loss to No. 6 Oregon.
“Our guys continue to play hard,” Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said. “Our job as coaches is to continue to try to put guys in positions where they can be successful.”
The Wildcats might be close to the bottom of the Pac-12, but Whittingham is guarding against a letdown as his team’s games start to become more important.
“Every week if you are not on your game, then bad things are going to happen,” Whittingham said. “We need to have a good week of practice and we need to handle our business like we have been the last several weeks. We need to have the right attitude, the right approach and the right mentality and go down there and try to play well.”
Arizona RB J.J. Taylor leads the Wildcats with 640 yards rushing this season and is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The redshirt junior’s 4,546 career all-purpose yards are fifth for an active Football Bowl Subdivision player.
Sumlin has been irate a few times over the past couple weeks after it appeared Taylor’s facemask was grabbed but penalties weren’t called. The coach believes one reason Taylor gets hit in the face so much is he’s just 5-foot-6, making him a low-to-the-ground target.
“You’ve got guys reaching and grabbing and getting what they can from him, because there’s not a lot,” Sumlin said. “It happens at least a couple times every weekend.”
ARIZONA QB SITUATION
Arizona’s quarterback situation has been fluid this season and it remains to be seen if freshman Grant Gunnell or senior Khalil Tate will get the most playing time against the Utes.
Tate has thrown for 1,687 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Gunnell has thrown for 1,143 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. Tate is the more productive with 331 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns.
Utah has a 40-40 record against Pac-12 opponents since becoming a member of the league in 2011. The Utes are 26-17 in the league over the past five seasons and 12-4 over the past two.
Whittingham has been the program’s coach during their entire Pac-12 tenure. He said he doesn’t really think about the program’s slow rise to prominence.
“As soon as the gun goes off and the game is over, I’m already thinking about the next opponent and so I probably do myself a disservice by not enjoying the victories as much as I should,” Whittingham said. “I think that is how a lot of coaches are built.”
Arizona has a 2-2 record against Utah when the Utes are playing as a nationally ranked team, including a 37-30 victory in double-overtime over a 10th-ranked Utah squad in 2015.
Utah’s defense is allowing just 55.4 yards rushing per game, which leads the FBS. Opponents are averaging just 2.28 yards per carry. The Utes are giving up just 248.6 yards per game, which ranks third in the nation, and are allowing opponents just 11.3 points per game, which ranks fourth.