The no. 17 Utah Utes (7-4, 4-4 in conference) fell to the no. 15 Arizona Wildcats (9-2, 6-2 in conference) 42-10 on Saturday Nov. 22 in Utah's home finally. In the pouring rain, the Wildcats were led by a strong rushing performance from true freshman Nick Wilson, who finished the game with 20 carries for 218 yards and three touchdowns. It marks the third straight year that Arizona has had a running back top 200 yards against the usually stout Utah run defense.
"Got out-coached, got out-played; that was pretty apparent. The turning point in the game was the punt return that got called back. If we do end up having that one stand it's 21-17 and it's a ballgame. But it wasn't to be. We had a mistake on it apparently somewhere. It kind of spiraled out of control from there. We've got to regroup. We have one more game, got a chance to win eight games this year in the regular season. That's our goal, is to try to get that eighth win next week. By far our poorest performance of the year tonight, coaches and players. So, you move forward. You have to pick yourself up off the mat and regroup, and head to Colorado next weekend to get our eight win," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.
Mistakes by the Utes was a major storyline in the game with four Utah turnovers leading to 21 Arizona points, including two defensive touchdowns. The wet conditions may have been a factor as quarterbacks from both teams fumbled snaps.
"[The bad weather] has an effect just because it makes it a little bit harder, but both teams play in the same weather. It's not like they're in a different stadium or anything. Just something you have to deal with, and we didn't adapt well. I don't think we, especially as an offense, played well," said Utah tight end Westlee Tonga
Arizona got on the board first when quarterback Anu Solomon capped an 86-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run with 3:23 left in the first quarter. Wilson gave Arizona a 14-0 lead with a 17-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
The Utah offense sputtered for much of the first half, failing to get a first down until midway through the second quarter. On the same drive, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson threw an interception in the endzone, ending a Utah scoring threat.
"As a football team, especially as an offense, everybody's got to do their one-eleventh. I'm sure I missed some blocks, other people might have. One misread, one miscue by any one person on the offense creates havoc for us. Everyone had to be clicking on all cylinders, especially in this league," said Tonga.
Turnovers were key for the Wildcats in this game as they also forced a fumble on Utah running back Bubba Poole, which was returned 31 yards for a touchdown, giving Arizona a 21-0 lead. Utah responded with an 8 play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped with an 11 yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Tonga to end the half 21-7.
Solomon did not play in the second half after appearing to re-injure his right ankle. Backup quarterback Jesse Scroggins finished the game for the Wildcats. The Utah defense held Arizona to no points in the third quarter, and Utah kicker Andy Phillips added a field goal to make the score 21-10 heading into the fourth quarter. Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay nearly made the score 21-17 after he returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown, but the play was called back due to a holding call that sprung Clay's big return.
The Wildcats dominated the fourth quarter, scoring 21 points. The WIldcats got rolling with a 75-yard touchdown run from Wilson. They scored again on 19 yard Wilson run after Utah's WIlson threw an interception, giving the Wildcats a 35-10 lead. After WIlson's second interception of the game, Utah made the switch to backup quarterback, redshirt freshman Conner Manning. Manning's Utah career got off to a bad start when his fifth career pass was intercepted by Arizona safety Tra'Mayne Bondurant and returned 39 yards for a tocuhdown, giving Arizona the lead 42-10.
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez was proud of his team's performance on the road in a bad weather game.
"I'm really proud of our guys. We played a really good football team on the road, with inclimate weather. They handled everything really maturely and I thought the energy was really good in warm ups. I guys kept their composure the whole time. Some guys that came in, who were back ups, came in a played pretty well. This was a good win. Normally we celebrate a win for 24 hours, but since we play our rival early we will enjoy it for 12 hours and move on," said Rodriguez.
In bad weather games especially, being able to run the football effectively is key. For the third straight year, Rodriguez's Wildcats shredded the Utah defense on the ground.
"The running game was the key, without question. We were able to run it and seal the game with the runs in the fourth quarter," said Rodriguez.
Utah running back Devontae Booker topped 100 yards for the sixth time on the season with 142 yards on 23 carries, including a 61-yard scamper.
While the Arizona offense played well, Utah safety Brian Blechen acknowledges some of their success was due to poor play from the Utah defense.
"Tonight, they were a good offense and we gave up too many big plays. Give them credit, they were working hard, but we made it easy on them by blowing a coverage or missing a gap. So that just gives them confidence and helps get them rolling. There were times we were just shooting ourselves in the foot," said Blechen.
Utah (7-4, 4-4) will look to rebound in their final regular season game next Saturday when they travel to Boulder, Colo. to take on the Colorado Buffaloes (2-9, 0-8) for the annual Rumble in the Rockies game. Colorado will look to avoid a winless season in the Pac-12 and try to bounce back from a 44-10 thrashing from the Oregon Ducks today.