10:30 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Utah -3.5, Over/Under:
Pac-12 foes open up their respective conference schedules Friday Night, as the Twenty-Third-Ranked Utah Utes travel to Arizona Stadium to battle the Arizona Wildcats in Tuscon, Arizona. While not enjoying quite the level of success they did as members of the Mountain West, Utah (3-0, 0-0 in Pac-12) looks to have finally found their legs in their new conference, having won at least nine games in each of the last three seasons. Kyle Wittingham and his charges overcame a rough start in their new neighborhood, going 18-19 in their first three years, but thus far are off to a stellar 3-0 start, thanks in large part to the implementation of a new, up-tempo offensive attack helmed by new Offensive Coordinator Troy Taylor. The former Eastern Washington Quarterbacks Coach has really livened things up on this side of the ball, particularly at Quarterback where Tyler Huntley has emerged as a playmaker at the game’s most important position. The Sophomore beat out the incumbent Troy Williams after a lengthy battle that lasted throughout the Summer into early Fall, and has reveled in the opportunity, tormenting opposing Defenses with both his arm and legs; Huntley has completed an efficient 72.1% of his Attempts for 289.3 Passing Yards (7.8 Y/A), five Touchdowns and two Interceptions, while rushing for another 212 Yards and three scores on fifty-one Carries, which leads the team. The youngster exploded in last weekend’s 54-16 blowout of San Jose State, connecting on 30-of-43 Passes for 341 Yards, four Touchdowns and an Interception, while racking up fifty-three more Yards with his legs. The contest started off slow with a litany of Field Goals putting the score at 9-3 after the First Quarter, only for the hosts to run off twenty-one unanswered Points in the second frame, before ending the game on an impressive 24-7 run. When it was all said done, the Utes had amassed a staggering 501 Yards of Total Offense and twenty-nine First Downs, and that was with committing three Turnovers of their own. It was an excellent rebound performance for a unit that struggled to reach the End Zone the previous week against bitter rival BYU, whom they narrowly edged 19-13 in the latest installment of the fabled Holy War. Despite totaling an impressive 430 Total Yards, Wittingham’s kids routinely faltered in the Red Zone, settling four Matt Gay Field Goals, with Huntley’s 5-Yard Rushing Touchdown ultimately proving to be the difference. With that said, Utah’s Defense has been stout thus far, allowing just 15.0 Points (26th Overall) on 244.7 Total Yards per Game, while all but snuffing out the run, permitting a mere 48.0 Yards on the ground at a scant 1.6 Yards per Carry. And this is precisely where this meeting will be decided, folks, for in the past this team has found Arizona’s Rushing Attack to be an Achilles Heel of sorts; last year’s 36-23 victory snapped a three-game losing streak to the Wildcats, who in those three losses had averaged a whopping 252.0 Rushing Yards on 5.4 Yards per Carry, with eight Touchdowns. Friday’s trip to Tuscon marks the beginning of a tough stretch for the Utes, who will face Stanford, No. Five USC, Arizona State, and No. Twenty-Four Oregon in the following weeks.
Meanwhile, the proverbial clock is ticking for Arizona (2-1, 0-0 in Pac-12) and Rich Rodriguez, who now in his sixth season in Tuscon must steer the ship back into a positive direction after a pair of disappointing campaigns. Indeed, the honeymoon is over for Rich Rod, who after going 26-4 in his first three years with the Wildcats, has since floundered to 12-16 since, even going without a Bowl Game last year for the first time since his arrival back in 2012. However, let’s not place all the blame on the innovative, offensive mastermind, for the 2016 campaign (3-9, 1-8 in Pac-12) was absolutely wrecked by injury, none more so glaring than at Quarterback where Rodriguez cycled through three different starters throughout the term. At that point Redshirt Sophomore Brandon Dawkins ended up taking the majority of snaps, and after the transfer of incumbent Anu Solomon, became the unquestioned starter for 2017. Dawkins has had his ups and downs thus far, but his potential as a Dual Threat is undeniable, which Rodriguez intends on cultivating with his effective Zone Read scheme. Now a Redshirt Junior, this kid looks far more comfortable piloting the Offense, completing a much improved 66.7% of his Attempts for an average of 140.7 Yards (6.7 Y/A), four Touchdowns and zero Interceptions, while rushing for another 261 Yards and five scores on thirty-four carries. While he struggled mightily two weeks ago in a 19-16 loss at home to Houston, completing just 17-of-29 Passes for 178 Yards, and rushing for just twenty-six, Dawkins responded well the following weekend in a 63-16 annihilation on the road at Texas El-Paso. This one was over early, folks, as the visitors scored the first twenty-eight Points of the affair, before eventually owning a commanding 35-9 lead at Halftime. The versatile Quarterback was dealing on a precise 18-of-21 Passing for 155 Yards and three Touchdowns, while leading a monster rushing performance for the Wildcats, accounting for 143 of their staggering 355 Yards on the ground, scoring another three touchdowns. Dawkins will in all likelihood be chomping at the bit for another shot at Utah, whom he did not play well against a year ago; in last season’s 36-23 defeat, he struggled mightily to attack the Utes’ Defense, completing just 11-of-20 Attempts for 243 Yards, and a Touchdown, but was picked off twice, despite earning forty-nine Rushing yards and another score on fourteen Carries. With that said, their opponent will have plenty more than just Dawkins to worry about in that Backfield, for Arizona has a wealth of talented Tailbacks that can break a big play when afforded the opportunity to do so. Rodriguez has four other players that have rushed for at least 100 Yards thus far, with the likes of JJ Taylor (186 YDS), Nick Wilson (129 YDS, 1 TD), Zach Green (108 YDS, 2 TD), and Nathan Tilford (117 YDS, 2 TD) all contributing to the Wildcats’ hefty 337.7 Rushing Yards per Game. Furthermore, all four Tailbacks have proven explosive, averaging at least 4.9 Yards per Carry, with Tilford racking up an explosive 9.8 Yards per Touch. Unlike Utah, this team has been afforded the luxury of calmly easing their way into Pac-12 Play, not having to ace a ranked conference rival for the next three games. This is huge for Rodriguez and Co. who lost their first eight conference games before finally breaking through with a 56-35 triumph over Arizona State in the 2016 Season Finale.
Predicted Outcome: Arizona 38, Utah 35