Four years Rich Rodriguez has coached the Arizona Wildcats, and four years Utah's defense has been unable to figure how to stop Arizona'a offense. The Utes lost a heartbreaker on Saturday night, effectively removing them form any talk of the college football playoff and giving up the driver's seat to USC in the Pac-12 south race. Her's a look at how Utah graded out during last night's debacle.
Utah is not a great offensive team, in fact they are a pretty poor offensive team considering the rest of the Pac-12. Going into every game, the opposition knows exactly what they are going to see. A lot of Booker up the middle, some read option, and some bubble screens. On Saturday that is exactly what Arizona saw. Despite the obvious game planning and play calling, the Utah offense managed 30 points and Travis Wilson threw for two scores and only one interception which was not his fault. Booker ran for over 100 yards for the 14th time in his Utah career and had a touchdown. Harrison Handley had one of the few explosive offensive plays Utah has had in the past few games, running away from the Wildcat defense for a 54 yard touchdown pass.
The Utah offense struggled in key moments, however, which ultimately cost them the game. Booker fumbled late in the game while Utah was driving. A drive later, Tyrone Smith dropped a third down pass that would have moved the sticks. In overtime, Utah bumbled around and failed to score a touchdown. Utah may have very well gotten all they could out of their offense tonight, but it wasn't good enough to beat a middle of the road Pac-12 opponent.
The defense had their worst performance of the season, surrendering 460 yards and once again allowing Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon to run all over the place. The Utah defensive line was able to apply pressure on the Solomon throughout the game but could not come away with a sack, always letting Solomon escape. The Wildcat offense shredded the normally tough Utah defense until Solomon left with a concussion. They picked on Dominique Hatfield early on in the game and had success. The secondary did not have an answer for the Arizona receivers and only got off the field at times because Arizona receivers dropped passes. The Arizona running game did not have Nick Wilson for much of the night, but Jared Baker was able to rip off a few key runs to move the chains for Arizona. positive for Utah was Brian Allen and Justin Thomas were both able to come up with key interceptions, Allen's especially so, coming in the Arizona endzone.
In four years with Rich Rodriguez coaching the Wildcats, Utah has not been able to find an answer to the Wildcat offense. The 37 points given up to the Wildcats is only the second time this season the Utah defense has given up over 24 points, the other coming against USC. With so much on the line for Utah, it was disappointing to see the Utah defense come out and play so poorly.
The special teams did their job. The coverage units didn't give up an big returns and Tom Hackett had four punts for 196 yards, including a 66 yarder. Andy Phillips was 3/3 on field goals including one in overtime that careened of the right goal post and in. On returns, Arizona didn't allow Covey to gain any return yardage on all three Arizona punts.
The defense looked woefully unprepared for Arizona's up tempo offense as Arizona scored on four of their first five drives. The only drive they did not score on to open the game is because Arizona elected to go for it on fourth down instead of kicking a field goal. The second half went a little better, forcing a couple turnovers and a few punts, but with the game on the line, Utah could not get the stop.
In overtime, Utah switched offensive philosophies suddenly, electing to pass on first down to begin each overtime posession. In the second overtime, needing a score to tie, the Utes all but abandoned the run, calling pass plays on six of the eight plays, handing off to Booker only twice. Wilson did run one once for a huge fourth down conversion, but only because the called pass play broke down. Overall it appeared Utah was not well prepared to take on an outmanned, snake bitten Arizona team and the result was very bad loss for Utah football.