The No. 17 Utah Utes (7-3, 4-3 in Pac-12) host the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats today at Rice-Eccles Stadium at 1:30 p.m. MT (televised on ESPN). Since it is the last home game of the year, Utah will honor their seniors. Utah will also honor the Ute Tribe as part of Native American Heritage Month.
Utah and Arizona used to be foes in the WAC before Arizona made the jump to the Pac-10 in 1978. Utah leads the all time series against Arizona 20-17-2. Arizona currently has a two-game winning streak in the series, with a 34-24 win in Salt Lake City in 2012 and a 35-24 win in Tucson in 2013. Utah's last win over Arizona was in 2011 when they won 34-21 in Tucson. Utah's last win in Rice-Eccles Stadium was in 2005 when the Utes defeated the Wildcats 27-24, which was current Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham's first win in his new job as head coach.
No More Carey:
Arizona running back Ka'deem Carey was public enemy number one for the Utes. He gashed the Utes twice to the tune of 204 yards in 2012 and 232 yards in 2013. Carey single-handedly defeated the Utes in their last two meetings. Utah fans will be happy that the All-American declared early for the NFL and plays for the Chicago Bears rather than for the Wildcats.
Battle Between Battle Tested Teams:
No teams in the country have given their fans more heart attacks than Utah or Arizona. They have each played in six games decided by seven points or less, tied for second in the country. The Wildcats are 5-1 in those games while the Utes are 4-2. There is no doubt Arizona and Utah are the two best teams in close games. No other teams that have played in six or more games that came down to seven points or less have a winning record in those games. Arizona beat Cal with a 36-point fourth quarter, including a game winning 47-yard Hail Mary touchdown. Utah beat USC with a 1-yard touchdown pass with 8 seconds left and has won two games in double overtime. The Utes have played in three overtime games, the most of any team in the country.
"We got into that mindset that we're ready to battle. I think it's helped us when we've faced some adversity. Whether we've gotten down early or been on the road, our guys said hey, let's make some plays and keep playing and see what happens," said Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez.
Slowing Down Booker:
After starting Pac-12 with five straight 100-yard rushing games, Utah running back Devontae Booker has failed to top 100 yards rushing in the last two games. Against the Oregon Ducks, Booker did top 100 yards receiving. Stanford was the first team to stymie Booker with their Pac-12 leading rushing defense. Arizona has struggled to stop the run at times (158.8 rushing yards per game, 58th). They allowed USC's Buck Allen to rush for 205 yards on 26 carries, Washington's Dwayne Washington to rush for 148 yards on 19 carries and UCLA's Brett Hundley to rush for 131 yards on 24 carries. Booker has the talent to put up a big game against Arizona in the last game of the year at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the 2014 season.
The Scooby Show:
Arizona's defense is led by the talented linebacker Scooby Wright III. Wright is a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Trophy and the Rotary Lombardi Award, two of the most prestigious defensive awards in college football. Wright averages 11.8 tackles (4th), 2.20 tackles for loss (1st), and 1.20 sacks (3rd) per game. He has also forced five fumbles on the season. Utah will have to know where Wright is at all times, or he could ruin the offense's game plan.
Rich Rod is one of the best offensive minds in football, so it is no surprise Arizona has a talented offense this season. What makes Arizona's offense so tough to stop is how balanced it is. Arizona averages 35.6 points per game (25th), 492.2 yards per game (15th), 306.7 passing yards per game (14th), and 185.5 yards per game rushing (48th). In Arizona's two losses on the season (USC and at UCLA), the Wildcats only rushed for 78.5 yards per game. Taking away Arizona's balance is the key to beating them. Quarterback Anu Solomon has been excellent as a redshirt freshman, but he is not nearly as effective when he is pressured. Players like Nate Orchard (16.5 sacks) and Hunter Dimick (9.0 sacks) will have to make Solomon miserable to slow down the potent Arizona passing attack.
Utah leads the nation for the seventh straight week in sacks (47). Orchard leads the team with 16.5. He needs to average 2.5 sacks per game to tie Terrell Suggs's single season record of 24 sacks. Coming off the opposite edge of Orchard is Dimick, who has 9.0 sacks in his first season as a starter. Linebacker Jared Norris has also been able to get to the quarterback with 4.0 sacks.
Weakness Versus Weakness:
The Utah offense and the Arizona defense are the two weakest areas for each team. Utah has struggled passing the ball for much of the season, with three games with less than 100 passing yards. Utah got the passing game going against Oregon's defense, with quarterback Travis Wilson throwing for his season high 297 yards. The last time Arizona traveled to Rice-Eccles Stadium, Wilson had his first career 300 yard passing game when he threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona allows 445.2 yards per game (102nd). Arizona especially struggles stopping the pass, allowing 286.4 passing yards per game (120th). Arizona has talented players on their defense like Wright, but they have struggled against physical teams that can push around their three man front (3-3-5 defense). Whichever unit steps up will put their team in a great position to win the football game.