Forget Stanford. That was last week. It's old news. Great win. You all read about it ... celebrated it. Good. It's now time to focus in on Arizona. They're the only team that matters now - not the stunning victory over the fifth-ranked Cardinal or what potentially lies ahead weeks from now.
Arizona is, as of right now, the season.
It has to be. A win, while not nearly as spectacular or remotely historic as their defeat of Stanford last weekend, would at least validate, or continue to validate, much of this season. It would surely put the Utes as a near-lock on a bowl bid and position them as the second best team in the Pac-12 South. It would also put Utah at .500 in conference play for only the second time since joining the Pac-12 (they last were at .500 in November, 2011). Yes, this weekend is big.
But aren't these games always big?
Fortunately, I don't think the Utes will be overlooking the Wildcats. At least, not after what they did to 'em last year. I hope the team remembers the pain that defeat last year caused 'em - how it ended their season and dashed their bowl hopes. I hope Kyle Whittingham replays that game over and over so that when each and every player closes their eyes, all they see is Ka'Deem Carey bulldozing their defense. I hope they internalize the frustration of leaving that stadium knowing 2012 was a failed season. And then I hope they use that pain and anger to dominate a good team on the road.
It's time for a little payback.
Much needed payback.
So, Utah can't afford to have a letdown. Not when they're so close to being a very good Pac-12 team. Not when they're looking at a very winnable road game, which is rare at this level.
Arizona, while still tough, especially in their house, is a beatable opponent. They're not nearly at the level of last year's team and have some question marks on offense - namely the ability of B.J. Denker. Yes, Carey is still there, and I suspect he'll do his best to cause Utah's defense fits, but the weakness of the Utes this year continues to be their secondary, even if it's improving over the weeks. For a team whose passing attack ranks 112th nationally, this seems like the type of match-up that benefits Utah - much like the BYU game a few weeks ago. They aren't likely to beat the Utes through the air (though, I suspect they'll test the secondary), and will rely heavily on Carey, something they did last year (Carey had 204 yards on the ground in that one), which does play into the Utes' defensive strength (their rushing defense ranks 31st in the country).
But the Wildcats actually have an improved defense. Last year's group was a near-abomination, and this year's ranks 22nd in scoring defense and 47th in total defense - all a marketable improvement over 2012's unit. Of course, outside their two conference games, they really haven't played anyone of consequence. Their out of conference schedule would actually make the SEC blush (though, hat tip to UNLV, who seems to have gotten it together somewhat this season). Beyond the Rebels, they also beat Northern Arizona and UTSA. Those results might pad the overall percentages a bit.
In conference play, they're giving up an average of 34 points per game, which is 15.5 points worse than their average on the season.
We'll see if that trend continues Saturday.
If it does, Utah should leave Tucson with a hard-earned and solid victory.
Keep the momentum rollin' ... #workthewildcats.